Saying the pandemic has highlighted the need for a unified staff voice, a group of UCHealth employees announced Tuesday that they’re forming a union in order to advocate for workers’ rights and ensure quality patient care.

The Union, UCHealth Workers United (UCHWU), will include members from all job titles and will operate as a part of Communications Workers of America Local 7799, which formed in Colorado earlier this year. The public-sector workers will not vote to form the union, like those at a private company, because they are public sector employees, but they hope to put pressure on administrators.

Hospital staff and union supporters say that the pandemic has exposed the need for a union, amid strained hospital capacity and high staff turnover and burnout. They’ve expressed concern over declining patient outcomes as a result of understaffing.

“Staffing is always a problem,” said one UCHWU supporter, who did not wish to be named for fear of potential retribution from their employer. “The decisions that have set us up to be understaffed were made before the pandemic to maximize profit and operating margins. It is not the best way to run a healthcare system.”

UCHealth financial statements from 2019 indicate operating margins eight times above the industry average, despite being a not-for-profit independent public hospital authority. Staff say this emphasis on the bottom line is detrimental to patient outcomes and the overall health of the community.

“Everyday we are being asked to do even more with even less,” said an ICU nurse at UCHealth. “What that ends up impacting is somebody’s mom, somebody’s child, somebody’s family.”

Spokesperson for UCHealth Dan Weaver said that supporting and protecting employees has been the hospital’s main priority throughout the pandemic. 

“UCHealth’s staffing levels are similar to most hospitals at this time, and we have redeployed many staff members from other areas and brought in external traveler nurses to help support our inpatient care teams while providing free meals for those on all shifts and offering well-being and many other resources.”

As of today, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports 300,414 cases of COVID-19 and 3,321 COVID related deaths in the state since the outbreak began. UCHealth employees urge both the public and hospital executives to do their part to support healthcare workers. 

“We are meeting patients halfway, we need the public to hold up their end of the bargain as much as we need admin and execs to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we all meet the pandemic head on,” said one UCHealth nurse. “We ask our executive leadership to listen to our voice and we ask the public to continue to wear masks and socially distance.”