University of Michigan nurses vote to authorize strike

Posted at 8:49 AM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-17 18:17:21-04

Nearly 4,000 of the 5,892 nurses at the University of Michigan have voted to authorize a three-day strike, the union announced on Monday morning.

While the vote doesn't mean they will strike, the nurses can go on strike if necessary, but the union has not yet set a date. 

“Our goal is not a work stoppage,”  University of Michigan Nurses Association Chair Katie Oppenheim said. “Our goal is a fair agreement which respects nurses and guarantees safe staffing.  The University can remedy this situation immediately, by stopping their unfair labor practices and bargaining in good faith.”

Members of the nurses union have filed charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, saying they have been subject to unfair labor practices and to challenge actions by UM administrators as illegal.

The nurses' union claims the university has been making changes in work shifts without notifying or negotiating with them, discriminating against union members and failing to bargain in good faith.

The University of Michigan Health System has demanded cutbacks in retirement compensation from nurses during new contract bargaining, despite a $4.3 billion annual budget and $103 million surplus in 2018.

If the union and its members do go on strike, they will give the university at least 10 days notice to plan for patient needs.

In a statement, Michigan Medicine said: 

We are disappointed that our UMPNC nurses have voted to approve a strike. We have been bargaining in good faith since January and have offered a competitive package.

Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care. The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. A strike could put patient safety at serious risk.

The UMPNC must give us an official 10-day notice of a strike and we still hope to avoid any work stoppages. Since UMPNC announced it was seeking the vote, Michigan Medicine leaders have been developing a comprehensive continuity of operations plan in place in the event of a strike. This will include hiring and training temporary nurses to replace absent employees, deferring and rescheduling select procedures and making staff scheduling adjustments as needed. Michigan Medicine remains committed to patient safety during any union activity, and will do everything possible to maintain the highest quality of care during a strike.

Because it is illegal for public employees to strike, Michigan Medicine will take legal action to avoid a strike.  

We remain ready to continue bargaining with the UMPNC and are eager to resolve the contract negotiations.

Michigan Medicine has offered the nurses a compensation package that includes competitive across-the-board increases of at least 3 percent and a competitive paid maternal/parental leave program that includes six weeks of paid leave for physiological recovery from birth of a child and six weeks of paid parental leave to employees after a birth, adoption or foster care and guardianship.

UMPNC cites safe staffing as one of its most important bargaining issues.  In August, Michigan Medicine was 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. We accomplished this without any contractual requirement to do so because excellent nurse staffing supports excellent patient outcomes.  We remain committed to providing this level of staffing.