RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Conditions were tough before COVID-19, and the pandemic just exacerbated the issues some employees of Piedmont Health Services said they’re dealing with.

“Because, as providers, we have a lot of face-to-face contact with our patients, so we can see directly how clinic operations (are) affecting our patient care. And unfortunately, we just don’t have a lot of voice,” said physician assistant Laura Driggers.

The National Labor Relations Board recently sided with Piedmont Health Services health care workers and gave them the green light to vote on whether to form a union. That is a tall order in a state that is not known to be union-friendly.

But organizers believe they have enough votes to make it happen. For the south, it will also be historic in that, if approved, the local union will consist of not only nurse practitioners but physicians, midwives, and physician assistants like Driggers.

“I’m also really excited by the fact that this is a group coming together for all these different professions and that we’re all in agreement that the best way for us to move forward is together as a group to improve not only our own working conditions but also then our patient care,” she said.

An attempt by nurses with Duke Health to unionize failed to get enough votes in 2000. However, 10 years later nurses, with Mission Hospital in Asheville won a campaign to join the union National Nurses United with 70 percent of the vote.

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.

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.”

Piedmont Health Services CEO Brian Toomy

Supporters of the vote said they are also trying to curtail turnover due to current working conditions.

“When we have brought concerns forward either from staff or from patients we’ve been ignored. And so we really feel like we need a voice and we need a seat at the table,” Driggers said.