RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some employees of central North Carolina health care facilities were given the green light to unionize, the Department of Labor decided.

“I know that providers want a clear understanding of how decisions are made. We want accountability for the decisions that are being made, and we want a seat at the table for those decisions — especially the ones that involve our patients,” said family nurse practitioner Destry Taylor.

Taylor is joining other Piedmont Health Services nurses, physicians, midwives, and physician assistants. The National Labor Relations Board said they can now move forward in a vote to unionize. 

Piedmont Health facilities are: Burlington Community Health Center, Carrboro Community Health Center, Chapel Hill Community Health Center, Charles Drew Community Health Center, IFC Health Center, Moncure Community Health Center, Prospect Hill Community Health Center, Scott Community Health Center, Siler City Community Health Center, and Sylvan Community Health Center.

Jessica Rubio, also a family nurse practitioner with Piedmont Health Services, said while her clinic is run well, there should be more consistency on the corporate level that transfers to all facilities.

“Being able to count on fair and equal pay, health benefits, and also having a seat at the table to discuss specific working conditions that allow us to train people well, to provide good health care, to work well with our support staff,” Rubio said.

Both Rubio and Taylor agree the pandemic has only emphasized where things are lacking.

“Issues come up in primary care of too many patients to see in a given amount of time. Clinical support for all of the things we do outside the office visit are sometimes lacking, and I think this is something Piedmont can struggle with, too. How they support staff in things like prior authorizations, having support around the follow-up of complicated patients, and making sure they’ve gotten their needs met?

“Sometimes, when these things fall short in agencies because the support infrastructure isn’t there, the work falls on providers. And that results in more and more and more tasks, time, and stress for us in a job that’s already pretty stressful,” Taylor said.

In a provided statement, Piedmont Health Services CEO Brian Toomy said:

“We appreciate the community’s interest in the upcoming vote to decide whether PHS providers will become represented by a union. Since employers’ statements and actions are under close legal scrutiny in the days immediately preceding a National Labor Relations Board election and PHS does not want to do or say anything inadvertently that could result in the election being overturned, we are limited in how we are able to respond to media inquiries.

PHS is committed to protecting providers’ right to have a secret ballot vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board to decide whether or not they will be represented by a union, and PHS has a responsibility to ensure that providers are fully informed about the implications of their decision so they can decide what is best for themselves and the patients and communities PHS serves.”

With 10 facilities in central North Carolina, Piedmont Health would be among the very few health care organizations in the state with a union. Rubio said transparency is a continuing theme.

Rubio said transparency is a continuing theme.

“So, transparency around what are the organizational challenges that make certain policy changes necessary, and if that’s going to negatively impact our jobs and our lives, letting our voice come forward and say here’s what we can do instead and here’s how we can work together,” Rubio said.

Taylor added: “I want to be a primary care provider at a federally qualified health center or safety net clinic for the rest of my life. And the way that health care has developed, both at my agency and nationally, that has been a struggle to be able to maintain a healthy, happy life and do this work. So, the bottom line for me is union, ‘yes,’ so I can continue to do this work for the next 20-30 years.”

Secret ballots will be mailed out Friday with a deadline of March 4.