Michigan Medicine nurses filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan on Tuesday for prohibiting them from wearing pro-union buttons and shirts, which the suit claims violates the nurses’ First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs are members of the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council, an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association.
The filing comes in the midst of contract talks between the University and nurse council, who have been negotiating wages and staff-to-patient ratios since January. Union nurses have protested the lack of progress throughout the talks during the University’s Board of Regents meetings over the past few months.
“Our nurse bargaining team believes it is time to hold management accountable for bad faith bargaining, making changes to our working conditions without any negotiations and discriminating against RNs for exercising our right to free speech,” Megan Duncan, a nurse at the University of Michigan Hospital, said in a Michigan Nurses Association news release.
From Monday to Sunday, more than 5,700 union nurses will vote on whether to authorize a work stoppage against Michigan Medicine.
Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson says the University “is confident all of its efforts in these negotiations have been consistent with the First Amendment” and putting its patients first.
“Michigan Medicine has offered the nurses a compensation package that includes competitive across-the-board increases of at least 3 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,” Masson said.
Masson also says the University opposes the union’s efforts to bring labor negotiations into patient care areas.
“Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care,” Masson said. “The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. If any of our nurses go out on strike, their absences may put patient safety at serious risk.”
The union previously filed four labor practice violations with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, including discriminating against members engaged in legally protected speech, making unannounced changes in work shifts, refusing to bargain in good faith over terms and conditions of employment and failure to bargain in good faith.