NEW BEDFORD — Nurses at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford have voted to unionize.

A secret ballot election held on site at the hospital on Thursday saw a majority vote from the 722 registered nurses in favor of joining the Massachusetts Nurses Association and forming a union. The election was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

According to a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, nurses at St. Luke's are planning to negotiate their first contract soon.

St. Luke's nurses were motivated to unionize to find solutions to staffing and pay issues at the hospital, as well as nurse retention rates.

"We're thrilled to be coming together as a union," said Deb Falk, a nurse in the emergency department at St. Luke’s. "Those of us in the Emergency Department always felt kind of separated from the nurses on other floors, and I've loved getting to know so many great nurses throughout the hospital during our organizing. I really feel like we're a close family now. It's been amazing seeing so many of our co-workers coming together to improve conditions for our patients and our community."

MNA president and registered nurse Donna Kelly-Williams congratulated the St. Luke’s nurses for their brave effort to form a union.

“When nurses are organized, patients are the biggest beneficiaries,” Kelly-Williams said. “Nurses at St. Luke’s now have a legally protected seat at the table with management to define their nursing practice and address issues impacting patients under their care.”

The MNA is the largest union and professional organization of nurses and healthcare professionals in Massachusetts. About 23,000 members in healthcare facilities across the state are represented by the organization, including nurses at 70 percent of the Commonwealth's acute care hospitals.

On November 2, over a dozen nurses representing the group St. Luke's United marched on Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith Hovan's office, announcing their intention to unionize.

The administration responded to the effort by hiring a consultant internationally known for attempting to disrupt unionization efforts.

Employees at St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River are also organizing to form a union.