Almost 4K nurses authorize strike at Mich. hospital
Nurses at Michigan Medicine voted to authorize a three-day strike "to protest ongoing and continuous violations of their workplace rights"
By Marc Daalder
Detroit Free Press
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A nurses' union announced on Monday that nurses at Michigan Medicine, the medical arm of the University of Michigan, have voted to authorize a three-day strike "to protest ongoing and continuous violations of their workplace rights."
The union has yet to set a date for the strike, which will go ahead "if University officials fail to remedy their ongoing unfair labor practices," the union said in a statement.
The University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council represents 5,700 nurses at U-M hospitals and other health care facilities. More than 4,000 people voted last week with 94 percent voting in favor of a strike.
Michigan Medicine, which oversees U-M hospitals, issued a statement condemning the strike vote.
Mary Masson, a Michigan Medicine spokeswoman, said: "We are disappointed that our UMPNC nurses have voted to approve a strike. We have been bargaining in good faith since January and have offered a competitive package."
Nurses dispute this characterization, saying that while the U-M Health System's president, David Spahlinger, has publicly said that U-M is "committed to maintaining current staffing levels," the university has refused to make that commitment in writing. According to the union, this constitutes an illegal bait-and-switch tactic.
Masson also pointed out that "because it is illegal for public employees to strike, Michigan Medicine will take legal action to avoid a strike."
According to Masson, a strike could also put patients at risk. "Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care. The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine," she said.
However, Michigan Medicine has been preparing a "comprehensive continuity of operations plan (...) in the event of a strike. This will include hiring and training temporary nurses to replace absent employees, deferring and rescheduling select procedures and making staff scheduling adjustments as needed," Masson said.
"Michigan Medicine remains committed to patient safety during any union activity, and will do everything possible to maintain the highest quality of care during a strike."
Masson noted that in August, Michigan Medicine was ranked No. 5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. "These Honor Roll rankings are achieved in part by our excellent nurse to patient ratios. Our ratios are in the top 2 percent of all hospitals in the country," she said.
Katie Oppenheim, who chairs the union, said in a statement that a strike is not the union's goal.
"Our goal is a fair agreement which respects nurses and guarantees safe staffing. The university can remedy this situation immediately, by stopping their unfair labor practices and bargaining in good faith," she said.
According to a statement, the union has three main complaints. Nurses believe that U-M is failing to negotiate in good faith, is changing shifts without notifying or negotiating with the union and is discriminating against union members. The union has also filed several unfair labor practice charges against the university with Michigan's Employment Relations Commission.
The current offer on the table from Michigan Medicine involves pay raises across the board of at least three percent "and a competitive paid maternal/parental leave program that includes six weeks of paid leave for physiological recovery from birth of a child and six weeks of paid parental leave to employees after a birth, adoption or foster care and guardianship," Mason said.
Despite the conflict, nurses and the university alike stress their desire to come to an agreement and avert a strike.
"We’ve had a productive relationship for many years, and the work of our members has helped the UM Health System grow and win top state and national rankings. Right now, we need University officials to stop violating our rights so we can negotiate a fair agreement, with safe patient care as our top priority," said Anne Jackson, a registered nurse and union member.
"We remain ready to continue bargaining with the UMPNC and are eager to resolve the contract negotiations," Masson said.
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