Michigan Medicine nurses vote authorizes work stoppage
This story has been updated to include a statement from Michigan Medicine.
This story has been updated to include an interview with UMPNC homecare nurse Kim Leavens.
The University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council announced Monday morning that Michigan Medicine nurses voted overwhelmingly to strike for three days amid bargaining efforts. Over 4,000 nurses voted in favor of a strike.
UMPNC represents more than 5,700 registered nurses at University Michigan hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities.
UMPNC members have filed unfair labor practice charges against the University for failing to bargain in good faith, making changes in work shift without notification and discrimination against free speech.
In a press release, Michigan Medicine nurse Katie Scott said the University created barriers to negotiation.
“The University keeps violating our rights,” Scott said. “They’ve created a wall that’s blocking us from negotiating the issues that are important to nurses and our patients. We’re saying, break down that wall so we can bargain in good faith.”
Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson wrote in a statement to The Daily that hospital administrators were disappointed to hear the outcome of the vote. Since it is illegal for public employees to strike, Masson wrote the hospital is willing to take legal action to avoid one.
"Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care," she wrote. "The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. A strike could put patient safety at serious risk."
The statement goes on to clarify how patient care will be handled in the event of a work stoppage.
"Since UMPNC announced it was seeking the vote, Michigan Medicine leaders have been developing a comprehensive continuity of operations plan in place in the event of a strike," the statement reads. "This will include hiring and training temporary nurses to replace absent employees, deferring and rescheduling select procedures and making staff scheduling adjustments as needed. 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... We remain ready to continue bargaining with the UMPNC and are eager to resolve the contract negotiations."
Katie Oppenheim, Michigan Medicine nurse and chair of UMPNC, said the nurses’ goal is to create a fair contract for all of its members.
“Our goal is not a work stoppage,” Oppenheim said. “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."
In an interview with The Daily, Kim Leavens, a Michigan Medicine homecare nurse, said she hopes the yes vote will get administrators back to the bargaining table. She wants the hospital to know the nurses are serious about their demand to codify current nurse-to-patient ratios, something the administration has thus far refused to do.
If you overburden a nurse with too many patients, then each individual patient would suffer," Leavens said. "We would not be able to safely provide the care and provide all the interventions necessary. When you overburden nursing and there’s too much of a workload, that’s when the potential for errors really can occur."
The hospital is adamant that they have no intentions to change the staffing ratios.
"UMPNC cites safe staffing as one of its most important bargaining issues. In August, Michigan Medicine was ranked #5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report," the hospital has stated. "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. We accomplished this without any contractual requirement to do so because excellent nurse staffing supports excellent patient outcomes. We remain committed to providing this level of staffing."
No date to strike has been set. The nurses will give the University 10 days notice once a date is determined. Leavens said there will be organized picketing in the event of a stoppage, but the details have not been confirmed.
"We haven’t gotten down to the finite details of that because our hope is that it doesn’t happen," she said.
This is a developing story. Check back at michigandaily.com for more updates.