Michigan

Nurses at two Mid-Michigan hospitals to vote on strike authorization this week ⋆ Michigan Advance

Updated 1/25/23 at 2:57pm

Years of deteriorating working conditions and months of working without a contract have prompted nurses at two Mid-Michigan hospitals to hold votes this week to authorize a strike, union leaders said.

About 150 nurses at MyMichigan Alma are holding their strike authorization vote Wednesday, and about 100 nurses at McLaren Central in Mt. Pleasant will vote Thursday, according to the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA). The nurses at both hospitals have been working on expired contracts since November.

“Nurses are rising up because we know something fundamental about healthcare needs to change if we are to protect our patients,” Shenan Shinabarger, a registered nurse at MyMichigan Alma and president of the hospital’s local MNA negotiating unit,” said a news release. “Corporate leaders need to be held accountable. By taking strong action together as a union, we are able to fight for what caregivers and patients need.”

If approved, the strike authorization votes would allow hospital negotiating teams to call a strike; the votes do not guarantee that there will be a strike. The negotiation teams are composed of nurses democratically elected by MNA members in the hospitals to represent them in contract negotiations with hospital leaders. A period of 10 days would be given before a strike could begin.

Nurses at both MyMichigan Alma and McLaren Central said they face similar challenges, including malicious contract negotiations and increasingly onerous working conditions — such as poor labor conditions. Those conditions have pushed nurses out of their jobs, union leaders said.

Marita Hattem-Schiffman, central regional president for MyMichigan Medical Centers in Alma, Clare and Mt. Pleasant, said the hospital was “surprised to hear of the vote to strike following our recent negotiations last Friday.”

“We know our nurses and they are exhausted from the last few years,” Hattem-Schiffman said in a statement provided to the on Wednesday Advance payment. “They are still recovering from the sacrifices they made through the COVID-19 pandemic. They deserve our highest appreciation and respect. Our very best efforts will never adequately acknowledge what they have been through and what they have contributed – the most knowledgeable and compassionate care – while at the same time we fear for our community, dread what each shift may bring, and mourn the losses.”

But MyMichigan Alma’s nurses don’t get that appreciation or respect, workers said.

“Demanding a vote to authorize the strike is not a step we took lightly,” Shinabarger said. “This will be the first time in my life that I’ve done something like this, but healthcare leaders have given us no choice.”

Nurses and community members demonstrate for better working conditions at MyMichigan Alma in December. | Photo courtesy Michigan Nurses Association

A McLaren spokesman, David Jones, issued a statement Advance payment on Wednesday, who berated the nurses for the strike vote.

“It is unfortunate that MNA [registered nurses] Decided to hold a strike vote at McLaren Central Michigan to withdraw nurses from patient care to strike for wages,” the McLaren statement said. “The timing of this vote coincides with the difficult time all hospitals have had recruiting and retaining nurses during the pandemic and is no coincidence. This is a ruthless attempt by select union officials to use the pandemic as leverage at the negotiating table.”

Nurses said the strike vote was not intended to take nurses away from patients, but to ensure nurses stay in hospital long-term. This, nurses say, will allow for better patient care for years to come. Union leaders also said the problems hospitals have had in recruiting and retaining nurses during the pandemic stem from managers not providing incentives to attract or retain nurses in understaffed jobs.

“The CEO of McLaren makes millions every year,” said Jessica Harradine, a registered nurse at McLaren Central and president of her local MNA. “It’s about time this company invested in our patients instead of executive rewards.”

McLaren Health Care CEO Philip Incarnati’s salary increased from about $8.15 million in 2020 to $8.75 million in 2021, according to 990 tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

The McLaren statement continued “remains committed to negotiating in good faith with MNA for a new contract that will continue to provide nurses with fair, competitive wages and benefits and enable our hospital to care for patients.”

“McLaren respects and cares deeply for our frontline nurses and team members and wants to offer them the security of a long-term contract,” the statement said. “We have been negotiating in good faith with MNA since the fall of 2022 and have made significant progress on the terms of a new contract, including the completion of several preliminary agreements. We have scheduled four additional rounds of negotiations.”

Should a strike occur, McLaren “will remain open and fully operational,” the hospital said.

“We are implementing a comprehensive strike plan to ensure that there is minimal, if any, disruption to those receiving treatment or visiting our hospital during the MNA strike,” McLaren said in a statement. “We have staffing safeguards in place to provide licensed, experienced backup nurses who will take care of patients during the strike. We are ready and committed to continually providing quality care to our community.”

Emily Burton, a registered nurse at McLaren Central and a member of the elected negotiating team, said the reason nurses choose whether or not to strike is because of “hospital management’s disregard for federal labor laws and the achievement of a fair contract.”

“For too long we have seen McLaren executives prioritize their profits over our patients,” Burton said Wednesday. “Personally, I’m so exhausted by the toll the workforce crisis has taken that McLaren’s threats and bullying tactics no longer scare me. Nurses across the country have risen to hold CEOs accountable. Tomorrow my colleagues and I will decide whether we want to do the same. I fear that if we don’t act decisively now, things will only get worse in the years to come.”

Across the state, underpaid, overworked and burned-out nurses dealing with their own trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic are leaving their jobs in droves, union leaders have said. According to Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), there are 154,758 registered nurses with active Michigan licenses. Of those, 102,480 are registered nurses, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union leaders pointed out that one-third of Michigan’s active-duty nurses are not registered nurses.

Nurses and community members demonstrate for better working conditions at MyMichigan Alma in December. | Photo courtesy Michigan Nurses Association

“Nurses get out of bed because the conditions that hospital companies create are unbearable,” said Jamie Brown, president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “The more nurses leave, the worse it gets. This was a problem before the pandemic, and the situation has only gotten worse over the past three years. Caregivers are realizing that the only way to change this downward spiral is to refuse to accept it any longer.”

Union officials pointed out that the problems at Michigan’s central hospitals were emblematic of a nationwide issue: Burned out by the exploding patient load during an ongoing pandemic, nurses across the country are increasingly leaving their jobs and striking to demand safer working conditions.

In January, around 7,000 nurses in New York went on strike in front of hospital management I Agree add staff. In September, about 15,000 nurses in Minnesota went on strike over understaffing. In December, the 15,000 nurses threatened another strike after their concerns over working conditions were not met. That December strike was averted when hospitals agreed to give nurses a say in staffing.

Michigan has also seen labor problems at hospitals since 2021. nurses at Michigan Medicine in AnnArbor, Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo et al Sparrow Hospital in Lansing authorized strikes before reaching contractual agreements with hospital managers.

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