Nurses protest for better contract as Michigan Medicine ranked one of nation's top hospitals

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 11:22am

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

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

Tuesday morning, nurses from the Michigan Nurses Association and the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council protested against the University of Michigan after U.S. News and World Report released its 2018 list of the best hospitals in the country.

According to a press release sent to The Daily, nurses refused to sit down or have refreshments while at the reveal event. They chanted to advocate for safe and transparent staffing ratios to be written into their union contract.

Michigan Medicine was ranked fifth overall in the nation. It was ranked first in treatment of ear, nose and throat issues and second in gynecology. Michigan Medicine nurses protested the rankings reveal event held by the hospital Tuesday, saying they helped Michigan Medicine reach its fifth place ranking and therefore deserve a better contract.

Since January, Michigan Medicine and UMPNC have been bargaining for a contract agreement. Their previous contract expired June 30, and a new agreement has not yet been reached. The UMPNC, an affiliate of the MNA, is currently pursuing unfair labor practice charges against the University after Michigan Medicine failed to maintain staffing levels, according to the MNA’s website.

As part of a unionized contract, the nurses are seeking a maitain staffing levels and safe workloads to provide the highest quality patient care and transparency about staffing levels. They also want workplace representatives for nurses and assurance that Victors Care does not create a two tier system with less access and longer wait times. Lastly, the nurses want to stop unnecessary retirement concessions.

Michigan Medicine nurse Ted McTaggart, the secretary of the UMPNC, stated in a press release nurses have not gotten the respect they deserve from the hospital system.

“We are a nationally recognized hospital, No. 5 in the nation according to U.S. News, because nurses provide outstanding care,” McTaggart said. “Cookies are nice, but nurses deserve a fair contract.”

Ian Robinson, sociology lecturer and president of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, said LEO and the MNA often work together on bargaining issues. Robinson is also the president of Huron Valley Labor Federation, which works with both unions, will be authoring a letter to the Board of Regents in coming days expressing support for Michigan Medicine nurses and their bargaining efforts.

“We feel that the administration over at Michigan Medicine seem to be very unreasonable in terms of the stands they’re taking on a number of issues that are holding up coming to a resolution,” Robinson said.

Robinson thinks the issues the nurses are facing reflect greater issues nationwide.

“(There’s) place after place where we have to use the tools of democracy to bring administrations that are at odds with what organizations are reasonably demanding … the kinds of struggles we’re seeing the nurses are fighting are exactly the kinds of struggles we have all over our country with the growing inequality that has resulted from folks like the ones running Michigan Medicine prevailing,” Robinson said.

UMPNC Vice Chair Donna Carnahan, explained Michigan Medicine recently received a Magnet Recognition award for its nursing talent, but that this was not acknowledged by the administration in recent meetings.

“None of that (the Magnet statues) was ever mentioned,” Carnahan said. “They never mentioned nursing at all until we all showed up, and what we’re doing is fighting for safe staffing. We want ratios. We want transparency and we want it put into the contract.”

Carnahan also said younger nurses have expressed desires to seek jobs elsewhere if bargaining efforts do not go well.

“People have said that if things happen with this contract that they’re not happy about, they’re gonna leave,” Carnahan said. “There’s jobs everywhere right now and they’re like, ‘Why should I work so hard (for these sick patients) if I have to take some of these cuts?’”

In an email interview with The Daily, Mary Masson, director of institutional planning at Michigan Medicine, said the University is committed to maintaining staffing levels and has offered the nurses a compensation package as part of bargaining. This package includes a 3 percent increase and market-based adjustments to wages and retirement. Holiday pay, shift differentials and administrative time have also been shifted.

“The University has committed to maintaining current staffing levels,” Masson wrote. “The nurses’ union has acknowledged that our staffing levels are excellent and the best in the state. This week, Michigan Medicine has been ranked #5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. 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.”

Michigan Medicine Nurse Megan Duncan attended the protests to support the union. She said her patients have noticed that care at UM is different than other hospitals because of staffing ratios.

“Patients notice the difference. They do. They’ve expressed that to me. They know how important staffing ratios are. If we’re at risk of losing that staffing ratio, it’s not gonna be the same. They know that because they’ve experienced it at other hospitals.”