The University has encountered increased resistance from the Michigan Nurses Association, which recently claimed in an amended complaint the University has been unfairly changing labor practices involving health insurance without consulting them.

Despite failures to reach a compromise over issues in the past involving benefits and salary changes, both parties expressed optimism that they would come to an agreement on the contracts when negotiations began on Aug. 3.

The disagreements over the contract come on the heels of a grievance against the University filed by the MNA on June 21, charging unfair labor practices, according to a July 8 article in The Michigan Daily. Specifically, the complaint dealt with an announcement by University of Michigan Health System that it would alter six nurses’ schedules without first negotiating the changes with the MNA.

According to Ann Sincox of the Michigan Nurses Association, the union hopes that the negotiations will benefit both the nurses and UMHS, and continue to foster a program that draws high quality nurses to the University.

“We believe that (UMHS) is also concerned about providing world-class patient care,” Sincox said. “Our goal is to reach an agreement that allows UMHS to attract the high-caliber nurses necessary to care for the patients at UMHS.”

She added that she believes negotiations will ultimately end in an agreement that will satisfy both sides.

“We have a long relationship with UMHS and are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that will support the nurses ability to continue providing quality patient care,” Sincox said.

Sincox said the nurses union claims that the proposed changes to nurses’ health care benefits would compromise the hospital’s ability to attract and maintain a top nursing staff.

“The key issues in the contract revolve around the ability of (University) nurses to continue providing safe, quality patient care both now and in the future,” Sincox said. “These nurses are being asked to take substantial cuts in benefits and to pay more for their health insurance … If you cannot attract and keep the nurses who fit (the University’s) high standards, then patient care will be affected not only now, but in the future.”

According to Steven Strahl, a registered nurse at the University and member of the bargaining team, when benefits are decreased, quality care may be compromised since potentially less high-quality nurses will be interested in working for the University.

“(The University) is a world-known health care institution,” Strahl said. “People come from everywhere for that specialized care. Health care of that caliber requires nurses with specialized knowledge. When the employer starts decreasing the benefits package, it will be harder to recruit and retain that high caliber of nurses both now and in the future.”

Though the economic downturn afflicting Michigan has forced various unions around the state to experience pay and benefit concessions, Sincox said the nurses union believes that UMHS has mitigated economic troubles.

She added that UMHS doesn’t appear to be suffering from the economy since the program has continued to profit over the past 15 years and several of their top executives have recently received salary increases. However, she said UMHS has undertaken a large financial burden with development of the new Mott Children’s Hospital and that shouldn’t be paid for at the expense of the nurses.

“The only concern UMHS has expressed recently is how much the new Mott Children’s Hospital is costing them,” Sincox said. “Their decision to build at a time that the economy slumped should not be paid for on the backs of the nurses.”

While UMHS representatives said they are looking forward to returning to the negotiations, the department declined to comment on specific points regarding the negotiation. However, UMHS spokesman Michael Steigmayer said that despite the ongoing work toward a compromise, patients should not be concerned about the quality of treatment they will receive through the system.

“Patients and families can continue to be confident in the care they will receive at UMHS facilities during the negotiation period,” Steigmeyer said. “We look forward to continued good negotiations after we return to the table on August 3 to reach a mutual agreement.”

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