The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, currently engaged in contract negotiation with Michigan Medicine, announced Monday morning that it will hold an informational picket on July 14 if they haven't yet reached an agreement at that point.
The announcement of the picket comes less than a week after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the health system for prohibiting the nurses from wearing certain shirts advocacting for the union while on their shift.
The union has been bargaining with administrators since January to create a new contract, ideally before their current one expires on June 30. However, progress has been slow.
Barbara Van Kainen, who is a registered nurse and a member of the bargaining team, has paused her patient-care duties — which she says she “misses terribly”—in order to bargain 5 days a week. Van Kainen says she and her fellow team members are committed to making sure the administration takes nurses and their needs seriously.
“We want a fair contract, we want to ensure safe RN staffing levels to protect our patients, we want nurses to have a voice in patient care and the care they provide, and we would like the hospital to invest in its nurses,” Van Kainen says.
Investment in the nurses has emerged as a key issue in the negotiations.
Michigan Medicine reported a projected $103 million surplus for fiscal year 2018, but UMPNC reports the hospital is proposing cuts to nurses’ retirement and paid time off. Katie Oppenheim, chair of UMPNC, doesn’t see these cuts as a show of investment in nurses—or, for that matter, in patient care.
“We're looking for assurances that staffing will continue to be at the levels of which we’re at now… we have seen that the university seems to be more interested in their buildings and in their profit than they are in nurses and the care they provide.” Oppenheim says.
In a statement, spokesperson Mary Masson says Michigan Medicine is aware of the issue.
“We are committed to working with our nurses through the bargaining process to reach a contract. We are aware of the unfair labor practice issue and believe we correctly enforced our policies. These and other issues are part of our ongoing negotiations toward a contract.”
The picket will act as a way to get Michigan Medicine’s attention for the nurses’ cause. A time and place will be announced as the date comes closer. The picket will not be a work stoppage, so as not to affect patient care.
This post was updated at 3:30 p.m.