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Nurses, Wear Your Union Buttons Proudly
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 22, 2008

Some good news for hard-working nurses:  the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals just struck down a National Labor Relations Board ruling that allowed a hospital to ban nurses from wearing their “RNs Demand Safe Staffing” buttons during collective bargaining.  The Republican majority of the NLRB had condoned yet another employer policy aimed at muzzling their employees’ freedom of association, and once again, a circuit court found they were out of line.

In the fall of 2003, nurses at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Wash. attempted to address staffing concerns through contract negotiations, and wore buttons to show their support.  Over several months of negotiations, the hospital didn’t receive a single complaint from patients about the buttons.  But the hospital then banned the nurses from wearing the “RNs Demand Safe Staffing” pin in all areas of the hospital—even outside patient care areas (where employers can lawfully ban buttons under labor law). 

When the nurses filed a complaint with the NLRB, an administrative law judge found the hospital’s ban unlawful and ordered it be rescinded.  The hospital appealed the decision to the Labor Board, and the Republican majority ruled that the hospital was entitled to ban the buttons because of their claim that patients might be alarmed by the message, though they failed to present any evidence of this. 

Upon the appeal by the nurses’ union, the circuit court judge held that the Labor Board’s decision was based merely on “unsubstantiated conjecture,” which was not enough to justify the hospital’s denial of the nurses’ rights.

Nurses should now feel free to wear their union buttons and continue to fight for safer staffing levels that benefit us all.