NEW BEDFORD — Over a dozen nurses at St. Luke's Hospital marched to Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith Hovan's office on the hospital's main floor Friday morning, formally requesting voluntary recognition for their right to unionize.

The group, St. Luke's United, was led by Debra Falk, an emergency room nurse. Falk and the numerous nurses requested to speak with Hovan. However, Hovan's secretary informed them that he had not yet arrived at his office.

In a video published on YouTube, several nurses took turns reading to Hovan's secretary their official request for voluntary recognition for their right to unionize, one of the several steps that are required prior to taking a vote for unionization.

We are the organizing committee of St. Luke's United. We represent a strong majority at St. Luke's who have come together to build a better hospital for our patients, our co-workers, and our community.

We are made up of professionals who provide day-to-day care on every shift and in every department. We are tired of the lack of respect for nurses in our hospital. If St. Luke's is going to be "more than medicine," nurses need real decision-making power that cannot be simply overruled by administrators who have lost touch with bedside nursing.

United by our passion to improve patient care, staffing, safety, equipment, benefits, wages, and working conditions, we are coming together to build a new organization under one principle. We are the union and things that can be better, we the nurses of St. Luke's Hospital have a greater say in how things are run.

We request St. Luke's management respect our right to form a union by remaining neutral as nurses prepare to vote in the union election. We urge St. Luke's administrators not to wast patient care money on anti-union campaigns.

The effort to unionize is being overseen by the Northeast Nurses Association. William McMahon, a union organizer with NENA, accompanied the nurses at St. Luke's Hospital as they presented their intent to unionize to Hovan. In a Facebook post, McMahon noted that the effort to form a nurses union at St. Luke's Hospital has taken "over a year of hard work of organizing" before the nurses marched on Hovan's office.

St. Luke's Hospital employs over 700 nurses.

According to NENA's website, the Northeast Nurses Association will petition the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a secret ballot election, which would take place at St. Luke's Hospital during working hours. A date for the election would be scheduled by the NLRB.

If the vote to unionize is successful, St. Luke's United would begin the bargaining process with hospital administrators for their first contract.

A request for comment from Southcoast Health by WBSM News has not been returned.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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