No one loved Parkview Hospital like RN Deirdre Kirkwood. When the medical facility had financial hardships and temporarily closed its doors, she was one of the last RNs to leave the neo-natal intensive care unit. And, when the hospital reopened, she was one of the first nurses back. Yet, as Kirkwood went into work on January 4 and scrubbed in like any other day she soon realized there was nothing ordinary about this day at all.
Shortly after her arrival to Parkview, Kirkwood was called into a meeting with the hospital’s human resources staff. She was told that, because of low morale at the hospital, administrators were cleaning house and, despite her seven years of flawless employment with the facility, she was being let go. They reminded her that Parkview Hospital was an at-will employer—meaning it can fire employees at any time, for any reason, or none at all—and that she had no place to go for redress. Parkview handed Kirkwood her last paycheck and had security escort her out of the building. She wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her fellow nurses.
Though somewhat unusual, such a story should end there. Lay-offs, whatever the reasoning behind them, are fairly commonplace. Only Kirkwood doesn’t think she was simply laid off, rather she believes that she was a target of a vindictive hospital administration that shitcanned her for attempting to unionize the hospital’s registered nurses.
“I was trying to form a nurses union at Parkview Hospital, the hospital I love,” Kirkwood said at a press conference last week in front of dozens of supporters and friends, many of whom held signs calling for Kirkwood’s job back. She sighted studies showing that unionized hospitals have a lower mortality rate (by more than five-percent), a lower turnover rate and in the end winds up saving hospitals money. And she reiterated her love of the hospital. “If an administrator came outside right now and offered me my job back, I would leave this podium, wash up and get back to work,” Kirkwood said.
Three days after her firing, Kirkwood went back to the hospital to pass out fliers to the facility’s employees, explaining her unfair firing. She was quickly asked to leave by local police, and so she relocated to the sidewalk. But Kirkwood wasn’t satisfied with that. She still wanted a union at the hospital, believing that it would only make patient care better. The now-unemployed Kirkwood set up a union meeting at her church, and predictably hospital administrators tried to strong-arm their way into the gathering. Kirkwood’s group also alleges that hospital administrators have snapped photographs of nurses involved in union activity and are aggressively surveying the unionizing nurses.
Although unionizing efforts are often undermined by private sector employees, Kirkwood’s unfair firing has the nurses union filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. These complains are not unheralded, having earned the support of Hillary Clinton, who has sent Kirkwood and the unionizing nurses a letter of support demanding that Parkview let its nurses form a union. “I am a fervent supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposed federal law that would ensure a fairer process for union organizing,” Clinton wrote. “We don’t have to wait until that bill is signed into law. Today, you can do the right thing and ensure a free and fair union election process for Parkview nurses. That would not only be good for the nurses, but also the hospital and—most importantly—the patients.”
Hospital administrators could not immediately be reached for comment.