Michigan Medicine nurses to vote on potential strike as contract negotiations continue

Thursday, September 6, 2018 - 9:19pm

U-M nurses protested for a better contract at Fuller Park on July 14th, 2018.

U-M nurses protested for a better contract at Fuller Park on July 14th, 2018. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Grace Kay

The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council will begin voting on a possible work stoppage next week. The union, which represents nurses at Michigan Medicine, has been bargaining with hospital administrators since January. Their previous contract expired June 30 and a new agreement still has not been reached.

UMPNC is currently pursuing unfair labor practice charges against the University on the grounds that Michigan Medicine has broken a written commitment to maintain current nurse staffing levels. UMPNC has said securing fair staffing levels is one of their biggest priorities for the new contract. Thousands of nurses and their allies attended a rally held by UMPNC in July to advocate for safer staffing and a better contract.

UMPNC representatives were not available to comment before the time of publication, but Sara Wallenfang, associate executive director for professional and member relations at the Michigan Nurses Association, confirmed the union decided to hold a vote on the potential stoppage.

At the July meeting of the University’s Board of Regents, UMPNC vice chair Donna Carnahan emphasized the union’s desire to care for and protect patients above all else.

“We provide world-class nursing care,” Carnahan told the Regents. “The UMPNC’s bargaining concern is about patients and the care they receive… I no longer feel I can trust my lifelong employer. I fear the University is now prioritizing profits over patient safety.”

Michigan Medicine said in a statement Thursday many priority negotiation issues have already been solved through bargaining. They feel progress has been made in contract negotiations, and they strongly oppose a work stoppage.

“Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care,” the statement reads. “The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. If any of our nurses go out on strike, their absences will put patient safety at serious risk.”

Striking is technically illegal for public employees. According to Michigan Medicine’s statement, employees will not be paid for time out on strike.

In a bargaining session between UMPNC and Michigan Medicine administrators Wednesday, the hospital offered a revised package proposal to union representatives. According to an email sent to nurses by Michigan Medicine president David Spahlinger and shared with The Daily by a Michigan Medicine spokesperson, the package includes 3 to 4 percent pay increases across the board over the next three years. The package also offers increases in shift differential, weekend and on-call pay, as well as limits on mandatory overtime and tuition reimbursement for graduate nursing programs.

In the email, Spahlinger also confirmed the hospital’s commitment to good-faith bargaining with UMPNC until the groups can agree on a contract.  

“Without an agreement, we are continuing with the fact-finding process in an effort to conclude our negotiations,” Spahlinger wrote. “We sincerely believe that the current package is highly competitive and reasonable but will continue to meet with UMPNC and our mediators in an effort to reach a final agreement. It is our strong hope and desire that we can reach a final agreement and avoid a lengthy fact-finding process.”