Nurses at the University of Michigan have voted to authorize a work stoppage of up to three days to protest what they describe as “ongoing and continuous violations” of their workplace rights, the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council announced Monday, Sept. 17.
The vote took place during meetings among the UMPNC’s 5,700 nurses at Michigan Medicine over the past week. According to the UMPNC, around 94 percent of the 4,000 nurses casting ballots voted in favor of a work stoppage.
No date has been set for a possible work stoppage. If nurse leaders determine a stoppage is necessary, they will give the University at least 10 days advance notice to plan for patient needs.
A work stoppage is not the goal for the union, UMPNC/Michigan Nurses Association Chairwoman Katie Oppenheim said.
“Our goal is a fair agreement which respects nurses and guarantees safe staffing. The university can remedy this situation immediately, by stopping their unfair labor practices and bargaining in good faith,” Oppenheim said in a news release.
The UMPNC filed a lawsuit against the university in U.S District Court, stating that university officials are violating the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting nurses from exercising their right to free speech as expressed on T-shirts, buttons and through other means in the workplace.
The lawsuit states that prior to 2018, the University “did not censor, punish or otherwise direct the (Michigan Nurses Association)-represented nurses to remove any red apparel – the color of the MNA – while working in patient care areas,” regardless of the message printed on the apparel.
Nurses have been threatened, however, with discipline for wearing apparel which supports their union, according to the lawsuit.
The UMPNC continues to negotiate a new contract with Michigan Medicine officials after its contract deadline expired on June 30. Negotiations for the new contract began in January.
Key issues like retirement cutbacks, increased health care costs and guaranteed staffing levels remain unresolved for the two sides to reach a deal, Oppenheim said last week.
The health system is confident all of its efforts during negotiations have been consistent with the First Amendment and putting patients first, Michigan Medicine Spokeswoman Mary Masson said last week.
On the bargaining front, Michigan Medicine has offered the nurses a compensation package that includes competitive across-the-board increases of at least 3 percent and a competitive paid maternal/parental leave program that includes six weeks of paid leave for physiological recovery from birth of a child and six weeks of paid parental leave to employees after a birth, adoption or foster care and guardianship, Masson said.
Michigan Medicine’s nurse-to-patient ratios are in the top 2 percent of all hospitals in the country, Masson said.
“Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care,” Masson said last week. “The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. If any of our nurses go out on strike, their absences may put patient safety at serious risk.
“Strikes are illegal for public employees in the state of Michigan,” she added. “If an employee goes on strike, the employee is not paid for the time out on strike.”