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The University of Michigan Board of Regents convened for their first meeting of the semester Thursday at the University Golf Course. During the meeting, the board voted to demolish the Central Campus Recreation Building and heard public comments from people involved in the current nursing protests and students pushing for reducing the University’s carbon footprint on campus.
Nurses and allies of their fight for a new contract, including higher wages and increased staff-to-patient ratios, heavily populated the meeting, both inside and outside the golf course. University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council organized the demonstration and included several nurses speaking publicly during the meeting.
The UMPNC voted Monday to authorize a three-day strike amid protracted labor bargaining disagreements with the University. UMPNC members previously filed unfair labor practice charges against the University for failing to bargain in good faith, making shift changes without notification and taking action against free speech.
Mary Beth Carlson was the first nurse to speak at the meeting, and lauded the proposed labor changes and the UMPNC's bargaining. She directly addressed the Regents at the end of her speech.
“I am living up to my responsibility as a nurse every day,” Carlson said. “I need you to live up to your responsibility to solve this problem so I can do my job.”
Following Carlson, Michigan Medicine nurse Tracie Lentz spoke about her experience being diagnosed with a blood cancer last year and urged action from the board. Lentz also criticized University President Mark Schlissel's previous comments in support of free speech protections, noting nurses were not allowed to wear buttons and shirts in support of their union — a major complaint in the lawsuit filed against the University last week.
Nurse Lynn Sharrock has been working at the University for more than four decades and participated in the demonstration. She was among the nurses asked to stop wearing pro-union clothing at work. Sharrock recounted details of the difficult working conditions she faced when she started and said that it is still necessary for the nurses to fight for better treatment.
“When I first started here, we didn’t have a union,” Sharrock said. “I made $11 an hour. And sometimes if somebody didn’t show up for work, I would just have to stay and stay. If I was at home — this is before answering machines — if my phone rang and I answered it, they said you had to come in, I had to come in or else I could be losing my job.”
The nurses were joined by members of the UMPNC leadership. Donna Carnahan, vice chair of the UMPNC, was present at the demonstration and expressed her hope that the board would respond promptly to the nurses’ demands. Carnahan expressed her frustration with the situation, noting that she has been part of the contract negotiations since they started in January and that the UMPNC has gained little.
“Today we’re here to get the regents’ help,” Carnahan said. “Our contract is based with the regents, and things have shut down at the table, and it’s now time to get the regents involved in trying to get a contract for the hospital. We don’t want to do any of this. We don’t want to do this work stoppage if we don’t have to. We would like to continue to take care of our patients. But we need to stand up and have ratios in the contract for safe patient staffing … We can’t get this done without them because nobody is listening.”
Regent Mark Bernstein (D), responding to the nurses speaking at the meeting, said he was “saddened to hear” the relationship between University nurses and the board has “frayed” and urged a collaborative future effort from all parties. Several other regents agreed with his sentiments.
Nurse Rebecca Bertha also spoke at the meeting and voiced concerns shared by many nurses about anti-union sentiment in the nursing leadership. Bertha specifically cited an interview with Chief Nurse Executive Ann Scanlon McGinity, a member of the Michigan Medicine executive leadership, from 2015 in which she expressed strong anti-union views and an unwillingness to work with union leaders.
“The change in nursing leadership since (former Chief Nurse Executive Margaret Calarco) left has really hurt the climate of mutual respect between nurses and management,” Bertha said.
Michigan Medicine denounced the strike in an email statement, saying they provided competitive and reasonable offers to the nurses, which were subsequently rejected. According to Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson, the organization offered the nurses raises of at least 3 percent. Masson also said the nurse-to-patient ratio is in the top 2 percent in the nation.
“We are disappointed that our UMPNC nurses have voted to approve a strike,” the statement reads. “We have been bargaining in good faith since January and have offered a competitive package. … We remain ready to continue bargaining with the UMPNC and are eager to resolve the contract negotiations.”
Five out of 10 public comment speakers focused on the University falling short in their efforts to combat climate change. Students and faculty emphasized environmental issues as ones that should be top priority, specifically carbon neutrality — the common environmental goal of a net zero carbon footprint.
LSA sophomore Catherine Garton and LSA senior Julian Hansen, two of the students present, co-founded the University of Michigan Climate Action Movement, an organization that promotes climate change awareness and has a goal of 100 percent carbon neutrality. Garton said current University efforts need to go further to act as an environmentally-conscious example among academic institutions.
“The University is trying, but it is not trying hard enough,” Garton said. “I feel that we have fallen behind in this regard. Climate change is the biggest problem facing my generation.”
Hansen added sustainable policy and culture on campus is crucial, and the entire University community including students, staff, faculty, alumni and Ann Arbor residents play a role in it.
“We were brought together to reposition the University of Michigan as leaders and best in the fight for a clean energy future,” Hansen said. “The leaders of the University of Michigan need to step up.”
Supporting the students were Prof. Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Prof. Joseph Trumpey, director of the Sustainable Living Experience. Kelbaugh said the University should think long-term when considering how best to reduce their carbon footprint.
“If you don’t act now, who is?” Kelbaugh said.
Trumpey emphasized the University is at the bottom of the Big Ten. He also reiterated carbon neutrality as an important focus not only to keep up with other universities but also for the community.
“I have 25 terrific students in the Sustainable Living Experience, but they simply can’t change the student culture on campus,” Trumpey said. “We need everyone on board … We must create and live a new truth together.”
Bernstein addressed the concerns brought up by the students and faculty.
“I’d like to add to the examination of our goals, how they relate to other universities and perhaps an exploration of far more aggressive and ambitious goals in this arena,” Bernstein said. “I urge the University to make this a priority moving forward.”
The board also expressed interest in listening to a presentation from the U-M Climate Action Movement regarding ideas and areas for improvement moving forward.
Currently, the University’s largest sustainable initiative is Planet Blue, which has goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste sent to landfills and increase locally-sourced U-M food.
The board passed a motion to replace and demolish the Central Campus Recreation Building, originally built as a collection of buildings between 1956 and 1978.
The budget for the project is $150 million and would encompass a space that is 200,000 square feet. The funds will come from investment proceeds, gifts and the Student Life Student Fee for Facility Renewal. However, Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) clarified the fee wouldn’t increase for students.
LSA and Business senior Jazz Teste spoke during public comment in support of replacing the CCRB. She emphasized the importance of recreational facilities on campus for mental health and productivity.
“This brings me to the dire need for a new central campus recreation building,” Teste said. “A new building would also highlight an area of priority for the University — mental health. Physical health is a proven measure for improving one’s mental health.”
Teste added many other Big Ten institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have renovated and replaced recreational facilities for their students. The proposed renovations come on the heels of a $13 million overhaul of the North Campus Recreation Building, recently reopened this year.
Newman voiced support for the replacement of the CCRB, emphasizing benefits for students.
“This is something we’ve talked about for a long time, upgrading the physical fitness areas on this campus, something all of our competitive universities have already done,” Newman said. “It is so important to the health and well-being of our students.”