Lansing, MI – Unionized caregivers at Sparrow Hospital are holding an informational picket today with supportive community members. The contract for 53 different classifications of healthcare workers employed at the hospital including nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory scientists expired on Saturday, October 30. Organizers estimate based on the number of RSVPs that approximately 1,000 people will attend the rally, with hundreds more wearing red inside the hospital to show support while working.
Local leaders expected to speak at the event include State Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr., State Representative Sarah Anthony, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO Ron Bieber, Sparrow nurse and local union president Katie Pontifex, and Sparrow pharmacist and local union Vice President Kevin Glaza.
Picketing will begin at approximately 4:50pm and go until 6:30pm.
“The pandemic has shown us the flaws in our health care system and how vital it is that these flaws be fixed. Sparrow executives cannot keep choosing to skate on thin ice with our staffing levels,” said Katie Pontifex, RN, president of the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital, the Michigan Nurses Association’s local at Sparrow (PECSH-MNA.) “There isn’t a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers in this state – there is a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers willing to work under the current conditions that hospital executives have become way too comfortable with over the years. The worse staffing gets, the more qualified caregivers we lose. Something has to change, and it needs to change now.”
Sparrow Health System has received about $106 million in pandemic-related government funds from the CARES Act. However, the health system has announced that they plan raise healthcare costs on Sparrow Caregivers during the pandemic.
“I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am tired of being asked to keep doing more with less. We need safe staffing. We need to recruit and retain nurses and other caregivers. We need to be heard,” said Jennifer Ackley, a nurse who works in the Emergency Department. “Sparrow executives cannot keep trying to use the pandemic as an excuse not to do the right thing.”
Caregivers are advocating for raises to keep up with the rising cost of living expenses, affordable healthcare, and contractually guaranteed access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). They are also fighting to make sure that the hospital is safely staffed.
“We are advocating for safe staffing. We are advocating to retain caregivers,” said Julie Mason, a clinical laboratory scientist in the Microbiology Department. “Rather than investing in the frontlines, Sparrow’s executives have chosen to hire anti-union attorneys to try to silence our collective voice. We are holding this informational picket to say we will not be silenced.”
Shortly before contract negotiations began, Sparrow’s administration chose to hire Barnes and Thornburg, a law firm that specializes in “union avoidance,” according to their website. Since that time, Sparrow executives have taken an aggressively anti-union approach in contract negotiations. Most recently, they have refused to hold any negotiating sessions during the week of the informational picket.
“Sparrow executives shouldn’t seek to avoid our union; they should seek to work together and respect the voices of the frontlines,” said Kevin Glaza, a pharmacist at Sparrow Hospital and vice president of PECSH-MNA. “All we are asking for is a fair contract that recruits and retains caregivers and puts patients before profits.”
PECSH-MNA members say that if hospital executives do not change their actions after the informational picket, they are prepared to call for a strike authorization vote.
“We sincerely hope that Sparrow executives listen to nurses, healthcare professionals, and community members and start negotiating in good faith,” said Pontifex. “However, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to advocate for our patients and our community.”
NOTE: Today’s informational picket is not a work stoppage or strike – all participants are attending outside of their work hours. Picketing will occur without disrupting traffic flow or patient care.
The Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital is a local of the Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA.) The union represents approximately 2,200 members across 53 different job classifications at Sparrow Hospital including nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory scientists. The Michigan Nurses Association is the largest and most effective union for nurses and healthcare professionals in Michigan, representing approximately 13,000 members across the state. MNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United.
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