The Michigan Nurses Association — a statewide union representing University-employed nurses — filed an unfair labor practice charge and a grievance against the University of Michigan Health System on June 21, alleging the University violated state law and their collective bargaining agreement.

The complaint stems from an announcement made by UMHS in April that stated it would alter six nurses’ schedules without negotiating the changes with the union. According to the MNA, the changes implemented on June 25 violate the Michigan Public Employees Relations Act and the collective bargaining agreement between the University and the union.

Among the provisions, both PERA and the contract stipulate that hours are “mandatory subjects of bargaining,” meaning any modifications to the contract’s terms on that issue must be negotiated prior to implementation.

However, Lisa Harrison, MNA labor relations representative, said the University introduced the schedule changes “unilaterally,” without initially informing the union of its intentions and then passing over the MNA’s subsequent demands to bargain.

In early April, the six nurses — who are part of a forty-member vascular access services team specializing in infusion therapy and IV placement — were told some of their shifts would be reduced to eight hours from the usual twelve hours, Harrison said. Those nurses then approached the union with a complaint, and the MNA pledged to look into the situation, she added.

By April 19, the MNA had submitted a demand to bargain with the University, but were “unresponsive” to the demand according to Harrison, and throughout May and June either ignored or refused the MNA’s efforts to negotiate.

“I was actively working to basically avoid filing a charge,” Harrison said. “And because of unresponsiveness or lack of willingness, that didn’t happen … We had no choice but to file the charge.”

John Karebian, MNA’s executive director, said in a June 30 press statement that the University Health System’s inattention was indicative of the University’s treatment of its nurses.

“This behavior by the Employer is a sad commentary on the lack of respect the nurses receive,” Karebian said. “The University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council is made up of well-educated registered nurses who are the backbone of quality care at this health system. They deserve better treatment from their Employer.”

In response to ongoing contract discussions between the University and the MNA, the University Health Service wrote in a June 29 press statement that they respect the work of nurses “as they play a crucial role in the quality and safety of the care (provided) at UHS.”

This week, University officials declined to comment on the charges brought by the MNA, but Michael Steigmeyer, UMHS internal communications coordinator, confirmed in an e-mail interview that UMHS is looking into the allegations.

“We have received the claim and are following our usual process for reviewing and responding to it,” Steigmeyer wrote.

The charge will now head to a formal hearing during which the University and the MNA will offer arguments and present witnesses for examination and cross-examination in a trial-like proceeding, according to Ruthanne Okun, director of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. After the hearing, which concludes a process that typically lasts six months, a judge will issue a decision and recommend an order, she added.

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