Nearly 600 nurses at McLaren Macomb could walk off the job when their current contract ends at midnight on July 27.
That’s after 90% of dues-paying union members voted to authorize a strike, union leadership said Tuesday, over what they described as “patient safety and nursing morale issues.”
“We have over 130 outstanding unresolved grievances over the failure to provide adequate staff for patient care and new instances occur all the time,” said Dina Carlisle, OPEIU Local 40’s vice president.
“In most of these cases McLaren failed to meet the staffing ratios already in the contract. In addition, there is a wholesale failure to provide the non-RN assistants that the contract requires. McLaren seems simply not to care about its existing legal obligations let alone work with us to improve services to keep the community.”
But a McLaren Macomb spokesperson said the move is "an unconscionable attempt by select union representatives to use the pandemic as leverage at the bargaining table."
Their most recent proposal included “an actionable plan to increase staffing levels” and “a defined process” to speed up adding more nursing support, as well as a 15.5% wage increase and $2,000 bonus for nurses, said McLaren Macomb spokesperson Dave Jones in an email last week.
"Purportedly, OPEIU’s key concern is ‘unsafe staffing.’ Our nation’s nursing shortage is a well-documented fact, exacerbated by the current hiring crisis experienced at most hospitals and many industries across the country. OPEIU’s decision to strike will only compound the issue of limited nursing staff.”
But Carlisle said the problems can’t just be blamed on the national nursing shortages. For one, the hospital is losing support staff to nearby hospitals offering more competitive wages, she said.
“I think the pandemic has put a whole new light on health care and nursing, and all of our ancillary staff also,” she said. “And I think nurses are doing it all with less help than we've ever had in the past. And I think that that's a breaking point.”
For months, the staffing problems at McLaren have been driving nurses away too, Carlisle said: The union typically represents about 650 nurses, but the staff has dwindled to 588.
“We built a very large E.R. and it's beautiful. But the problem is they left the staffing [levels] from the smaller E.R. So now they can bring all these patients back, and these nurses have six patients apiece now. And they have them for long, long amounts of time. I mean you can end up with ICU patients, a stepdown patient [who needs intermediate levels of care] and then four regular patients. We need more nurses in the ED and in multiple other units.”
Asked if nurses feel the situation is dangerous for patients or creating health risks, Carlisle said “Oh, completely.
“Nurses are...dealing with more patients than they’ve ever dealt with, with no ancillary staff, so everything’s on them. There’s no ancillary staff. There’s no secretary. There’s no aid. So you’re in one room with a patient, and someone needs help in another one, and this is what’s heartbreaking. There’s no one but you to go do everything. It’s not right.”
Negotiations with management began in February, but keep breaking down.
“What’s the holdup here is that, they feel like if we give you a decent living wage, you won’t care about staffing,” Carlisle said.
“Well, our concern is, due to the pandemic and then due to the way McLaren has treated their nurses through this pandemic...we’ve worked so hard. Nurses have given everything they had to their patients. And this is our chance to get a safe staffing matrix. And that’s the biggest thing: the pandemic has brought McLaren’s behavior to a major [light.] You can see everything about them and what they stand for.”
The last time the union voted to authorize a strike was 2004, Carlisle said. If no agreement is reached, then union leadership must give state authorities notice at least 10 days before they plan to walk off the job.
If that happens, the hospital’s management is ready, Jones said.
“We are implementing a comprehensive strike plan to ensure minimal, if any, disruption for those receiving care or visiting our hospital during OPEIU’s strike. We have contracted with a national firm to provide licensed, experienced temporary replacement nurses who will care for patients during the strike. We are prepared and committed to continually provide high-quality care for our community.”
Updated July 7, 2021 at 2:30 pm.