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Lansing caregivers picket outside Sparrow Hospital for better pay, working conditions

Kevin Lavery
Sparrow caregivers picket outside the main hospital in Lansing to secure a new contract that includes better working conditions. The union contract expired October 30.

Michigan Avenue outside Sparrow Hospital in Lansing was filled with picketers Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of hospital caregivers are demanding a new contract and better staffing.

A sea of Sparrow employees clad in red marched by the barrage of drivers honking their support.

The Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital represents some 2,200 nurses, pharmacists and scientists who’ve been working without a contract since October 30.

The main sticking point is low staffing levels. Employees say they’re exhausted from picking up the slack from high turnover.

Bitter fights over whether hospitals are doing enough to retain and recruit health care workers have intensified during the pandemic, as shortages reach a crisis point.

Clinical laboratory scientist Julie Mason is an 18-year Sparrow employee. She says management doesn’t view retention as a proactive issue.

“You can’t wait for a department to have a mass exit of staff,” Mason said. “You have to then stop the bleed and then recruit and retain.”

Lansing State Rep. Sarah Anthony joined the picketers in support.

“It should not take a global pandemic or a contract expiring for us to recognize in the grueling, and the selfless work, that you do for our communities day in and day out," Anthony said. "But yet here we are.”

The union says the issues are affecting productivity and morale.

Jen Ackley has worked in Sparrow’s emergency department for 14 years.

“It creates an ethical dilemma in your head when you are stretched so thin that you cannot give every patient your best,” Ackley said. “They get the minimum when you are overtaxed, and it doesn't feel good at all. It's not why I became a nurse.”
Sparrow denies retention is a serious problem.

“We don’t have a retention problem here,” said Amy Brown, Sparrow's Chief Nursing Officer. “I think that what we are experiencing is that we do have bedside nurses that are leaving some of those roles and wanting to go to different jobs, because there are a lot of different jobs that they can go into.”

Sparrow is offering a 12% pay increase for its unionized members over three years, once a new contract is ratified.

“Our proposal was to reinstate the longevity bonus, a four percent general (wage increase) for the very first year, three (percent) and a one (percent) for the second and third year and high shift differentials for nights, weekends and other things,” Brown added.

The two sides have requested a federal mediator to help them complete contract negotiations. They plan to go back to the table November 9.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter for WKAR in Lansing.