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Health

Upper Peninsula nurses vote to unionize

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Staff at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in the Upper Peninsula will be joining Michigan’s largest nurses’ union.

The health care workers tallied their mail-in votes this week, with 35 voting in favor of joining the Michigan Nurses Association, and 17 voting against.

Kelly Engle, who’s been a nurse at the hospital for 10 years, says nurses and administrators alike were overwhelmed in the spring when decisions had to be made about caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Their plates were full,” she said of administrators. “And I just felt like nurses — you know, not just in our hospital, but everywhere — suddenly really needed a seat at that doggone table.”

Engle says she looks forward to collaborating with hospital leadership on issues affecting patient care.

Geoffrey Bean is an ICU and ER nurse at the hospital. He says the hospital has cut down on support staff in recent years — positions like nursing assistants — and that unionizing will allow him and his coworkers to speak up when they feel short-staffed.

“When it comes to safe patient care, and the safety of the staff providing it … and the questions about PPE, and all the little things mounting up, we have to have a voice,” he said.

In a written statement, the hospital said that it “strives for open communication and active engagement with all its valuable employees.

“While we do not believe it is necessary for the involvement of a third party, we will always work in good faith with appropriate union representatives.”

About 60 full-time nurses work at Aspirus Keweenaw. The Michigan Nurses Association says the hospital is the largest to have its nurses unionize since the start of the pandemic.

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