Nurses at Prince William Hospital in Manassas have become the first in Virginia to unionize.

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board certified the Prince William Healthcare Professionals as the official bargaining agent for the nurses. The union, Local 724 of the Service Employees International Union AFL-CIO, will represent approximately 120 full-time nurses at the hospital.

The certification marked the end of nearly a year of bitter battles between nurses and hospital administrators over unionization.

But even after the certification became official, representatives of the nurses were skeptical about whether hospital administrators would engage in collective bargaining with the new union local.

"If the hospital refuses to bargain, the nurses are prepared to take a strike vote on the grounds of unfair labor practices," said Dave Cromer, chief union organizer for the Service Employees International. "This would differ from an economic strike in that the hospital would be forced to rehire the nurses at the end of the strike."

Hospital administrators, who earlier had vowed to use every legal tool available to block the unionization of the nurses, put the bargaining issue before the hospital's board of directors last week, which voted to honor the union certification and recognize the new local as the official bargaining agent for the nurses.

Asked if the vote had been unanimous, chief hospital administrator E.L. Derring replied: "I'm not going to answer that. I will just say that the board voted to bargain in good faith at a time and place that's mutually agreeable."