News from the Michigan Nurses Association
Contact: Sara Wallenfang; 517-974-4966
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell expresses her support to for a fair, patient-centered union contract
(Ann Arbor, MI) Today about 2,000 members of the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council (UMPNC) and supporters gathered in Fuller Park for a speaking program, before marching a mile-long route around hospital facilities owned by the University of Michigan. The demonstrators called on the University of Michigan Health System to bargain toward a fair, patient-centered contract that ensure safe staffing conditions.
“Nurses are here today to demand a say in our nursing practice, and we are unwilling to make concessions that may jeopardize patient safety. We are thankful to have so many community supporters standing with us,” said Katie Oppenheim, RN and UMPNC President. “The University’s staffing proposals do not include a neutral and binding dispute resolution process. That means that even when a problem is identified, there will be no meaningful accountability.”
Managers are refusing to publicly disclose staffing information, such as how many patients each nurse is assigned at one time. Patients and family members have a right to know, and RNs can better advocate for safety if problems are discussed openly.
Decades of well-established research that prove that when a nurse is forced to care for too many people at once, it can lead to medication errors, falls, and increased infection rates, and even patient deaths.
“The University doesn’t seem to feel an appropriate sense of urgency and needs to do more to reach a fair, timely agreement,” said John Armelagos, UMPNC Grievance Chair and President of the statewide Michigan Nurses Association. “Our contract expired on June 30. Yet, administrators refused to meet over an extended Fourth of July holiday week, only returning to the bargaining table on July 9. Settling a fair contract is an urgent issue, not just for nurses, but for our patients.”
Many prominent supporters joined the rally, voicing firm support for nurses, including U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell.
“Nurses work day in and day out to care for us and our families,” said Dingell. “I stand with nurses who are united and will continue to stand up for safe staffing and other important issues. This isn’t just about the nurses – it is about the patients they take care of. We have to stand strong for collective bargaining and the right to organize because everyone benefits from the work.”
The University of Michigan Health System (recently rebranded as Michigan Medicine), with a $4.3 billion annual budget and a $103 million surplus in 2018, has demanded cutbacks in retirement compensation and other concessions from nurses during bargaining for a new contract. The collective bargaining agreement between nurses and the University expired on June 30. The University has also rejected UMPNC proposals for a transparent, accountable process to address staffing issues.
Nurses point to the recently launched Victors Care program as evidence of the University’s misplaced priorities. At an additional cost of $3,600, which cannot be paid for with insurance, the Victor’s Care concierge program promises 24-seven access to a physician via telephone, text, or email; next day appointments; and “unhurried” visits.
“I hear from nurses in our primary care clinics that it takes two weeks to make an appointment with a primary care doctor. And good luck making an appointment with a specialist. That can take even longer. Some patients who cannot afford Victors Care have even been forced to switch doctors because their former physician now only serves those who can pay for exclusive care,” said Desiree Conyers, ambulatory care RN and UMPNC Area Representative. “I want quality care for each of my patients. That’s why I am deeply concerned about the Victors Care program. The University should be focusing on improving wait times and quality care for everyone. As a union, we have taken this issue to the bargaining table. We want contractual language to protect all of our patients from a two-tier system.”
Ian Robinson, president of both the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) and the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation, spoke in solidarity with UMPNC nurses. Earlier in the week, LEO members voted to ratify a robust union contact with the University of Michigan.
“Anyone who has been paying attention to our fight, to the graduate employees, or to the House Officer’s recent union negotiations realizes that there are big over-arching questions at stake when we bargain. Will U of M live up to its mission as a public institution serving the greater good or is it increasingly driven by a profit motive?” said Robinson. “LEO’s success proves that working people can answer that question by standing together in collective action. We stand with nurses, shoulder to shoulder, demanding that U of M put patients over profits!”
Melissa Gibney, a rehabilitation RN who is in the process of transferring to the operating room, summed up what many nurses at the rally felt, “This is about my patients. They deserve to be treated as individual human beings. As a nurse, I need to have enough time to treat every vulnerable person with the highest quality of care. It needs to be part of our union contract and we will fight until it is.”
UMPNC represents about 6,000 RNs, including the University of Michigan Hospitals and satellite locations.
The University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council is an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA). MNA is the largest, most effective union for registered nurses in Michigan, advocating for nurses and their patients at the State Capitol, in the community, and at the bargaining table.