University of Michigan Health System nurses praised the ratification of a new contract between UMHS and the Professional Nurse Council over the weekend and expressed relief as seven months of negotiations and more than 50 meetings between the two parties came to a close.

According to Ann Sincox, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Nurses Association, the final meetings to discuss the contract took place on Friday and Saturday nights. Members of the Professional Nurse Council and the MNA voted affirmatively on the contract late Saturday evening. Overall, the nurses are collectively pleased with the contract, which extends benefits to more than 4,000 University nurses, Sincox said.

“I think the general impression was that this was a pretty decent contract,” she said.

The contract passed by about a 2 to 1 margin, according to Katie Oppenheim, president of the Professional Nurse Council. She said University nurses were successful in implementing many proposed contract changes.

“As a result of all of our pushing back on the University, we were able to get increased language (in the contract) around nursing practice issues as well as language around shifts, lunch breaks and things like that, as well as wage increases,” Oppenheim said.

Keri Bokor, a registered nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the University Hospital, said though the nurses made some sacrifices on behalf of UMHS, they were warranted in light of a challenging economy.

Bokor spoke before the University’s Board of Regents in September and called attention to UMHS’s plans to reduce benefits. She said she is satisfied with the progress both parties made in their negotiations.

“I don’t think that anybody got everything they wanted, but everyone got a little bit of what they wanted,” Bokor said.

UMHS released a written statement on Sunday expressing its support of the finalized contract, which will expire in June 2014.

“We value our nurses highly, as they play a crucial role in the quality and safety of care we provide at UMHS,” the statement reads. “UMHS is pleased that we have come to this agreement. We look forward to continuing to recruit and retain the highest caliber nurses in the country.”

Negotiations began last April following an announcement by the University that six nurses’ schedules would be altered without the permission of the nurses’ union. In July, the Michigan Nurses Association filed a grievance against the University, suggesting that UMHS violated state law and the health system’s collective bargaining agreement with the nurses’ union.

Last month, nearly four months after the nurses’ former contract with the University expired, both parties reached a tentative contract agreement. Oppenheim said at the time that the nurses were “unanimously recommending” the ratification of the agreement. The tentative agreement came after what Oppenheim called “significant movement” by UMHS beginning in September.

Commenting on the lengthiness of the negotiations, Oppenheim said she felt the mediator involved in discussions only complicated the resolution of various issues.

“Once (the nurses and the University) started talking with each other again, which is something you don’t do when you have a mediator, things began to move a bit,” Oppenheim said.

Sincox praised the persistence of the nurses’ bargaining team throughout the negotiations.

“Anytime you’re going through a contract negotiation … it’s a long process,” Sincox said. “(The nurses) weren’t going to stop until they had gotten patient care issues settled.”

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