As Michigan Medicine nurses continue to vote on a potential strike, the University of Michigan administration reassures students at this time, the potential work stoppage will not negatively impact the School of Nursing.
“At this time, there is no impact on the clinical studies for nursing students,” University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.
Some students still expressed concern regarding how the situation might change with the nurses’ decision.
Nursing senior Rachel Sabin explained her professors said there will be no impact as of now, but Sabin expressed concern regarding the future ramifications if the nurses decide to strike.
“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Sabin said. “No one knows what’s going to happen because everything is so up in the air. They said the head of the course has been in contact with the hospital and it will be the hospital’s priority (to ensure) we can still complete our clinicals, though they cannot promise we will be able to stay with our initial nurse or on the same floor.”
Katie Oppenheim, chair of the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, said the union hopes to reach an agreement with the University on fair labor practices and avoid a strike. The group is set to vote Sunday on the action.
The union’s main argument centers around safer staffing levels.
“We are here today to demand a say in our nursing practices and we are unwilling to make concessions that jeopardize patient safety,” Oppenheim said at a union rally for safer staffing on July 14 with more than 2,000 other nurses in attendance.
Since the rally, the union has also filed an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital.
“Our goal is not a work stoppage, but a fair agreement, which respects nurses and guarantees safe staffing,” Oppenheim wrote in an email interview. “The University can remedy this situation immediately, by stopping their unfair labor practices and bargaining in good faith.”
A potential strike would have the greatest impact on juniors and seniors in the Nursing School. While freshmen nursing students follow a more lab-based curriculum and sophomores spend less than 10 hours per week in the hospital, a senior nursing student is required to complete two 12-hour shifts every week one-on-one with a nurse in the hospital.
Sabin explained some nursing students have already begun their clinicals. Sabin, however, will have her first shift Sunday. As a senior, she is expected to complete 260 hours working in the hospital this semester.
Mike Brinich, the director of communications and marketing for the Nursing School, declined to comment on the situation.
“We’re not going to speculate on something that hasn’t happened,” Brinich wrote in an email to The Daily.
Nursing senior Allison Silverman said she was told by professors at her clinical orientation a strike would definitely not impact her studies after many students expressed their concerns.
Oppenheim confirmed the union is voting on a three-day strike and Silverman speculated the three-day strike would not inhibit students from completing their clinicals.
Fitzgerald emphasized the gravity of the nurses’ decision on work stoppage in a public statement from Michigan Medicine.
“If any of our nurses go out on strike, their absences may put patient safety at serious risk,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Strikes are illegal for public employees in the state of Michigan. If an employee goes on strike, the employee is not paid for the time out on strike.”
Nursing sophomore Nina Graham said the ramifications of not only the work stoppage but the nurses protesting for safer staffing amid budget cuts from Michigan Medicine has been a common subject of conversation between nursing students, but has been mostly ignored by faculty within the school.
“As a nursing student I can see how taxing the system is,” Graham said. “They should be taken care of. But we haven’t really talked specifically about this issue in classes or anything.”
Sabin said she and other nursing students are watching to see how the administration will treat the nurses and respond to their demands.
“I think that all nursing students kind of have a close eye on how Michigan Medicine is handling the situation because if they aren’t going to treat nurses appropriately, then that’s definitely going to impact where we apply in the next couple of months and it’s definitely something that’s on our minds for sure,” Sabin said.
The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council initiated the weeklong poll after their contract with Michigan Medicine expired on June 30. The union represents about 6,000 Michigan Medicine nurses. The union has been bargaining with hospital administrators since January but has yet to reach a satisfactory agreement.