University of Michigan nurses union says members support picket
Members of the University of Michigan nurses union expressed support for an informational picket at a membership meeting called Tuesday to discuss a stalled and contested contract negotiation, according to a statement released by union representatives.
Some nurses are donning buttons and wearing red at work to support the union. An informational picket is planned for Aug. 13, though talks will resume Aug. 3, officials from the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council said this week.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Nurses Association declined to say how an informational picket would be carried out.
“It’s an opportunity for people to share information about their concerns, in this case, the ability for the U-M nurses to have a contract that both covers quality patient care and respects the practice and experience of the nurses," said Ann Kettering Sincox, a spokesperson for the MNA, via e-mail on Monday. The MNA is representing U-M nurses during the bargaining process.
Bargaining talks between the nurses and their employer started in April. The 2008 contract expired July 1, though the nurses continue to work under it.
A key sticking point is U-M's request that nurses pay up to 30 percent toward their health insurance premium, the MNA says. It did not provide information on what nurses pay now.
Shifting more healthcare costs to employees is a university-wide initiative that began in 2010.
Since then, U-M's non-union employees have been phased into a two-year plan under which they’ll pay higher percentage toward health benefits, said Rick Fitzgerald, U-M spokesperson.
Under the new cost-share ratio, U-M’s aggregate contribution toward health care of its employees, retirees and dependents is 70 percent, while the U-M affiliate contributes the remaining 30 percent. It previously paid an aggregate contribution of 80 percent, while employees paid 20 percent.
U-M’s been working to implement the same cost-sharing formula for its unionized employees as contracts for its 10 bargaining units expire, Fitzgerald said.
Members of the nurses union are saying they're against the proposed change to health insurance and other benefits, taking issue with some administrators’ double-digit salary increases and the amount invested in new buildings, such as the new children and women’s hospital scheduled to open in November.
The new building and a new charting system will strain UMHS finances, pushing the budget into the red by $23.5 million in the fiscal year that began July 1.
U-M employees 41,537 people among its three campus and the 21,271-employee health system. Typically, around 70 percent of U-M’s costs are tied to human resources.
The nurses say concessions will make it difficult to recruit top-notch staff, thus harming patient care, according to the statement.
“This is a message about the standard of care we deliver, the type of specialty care patients need,” said Peter Fedor, a U-M nurse and a member of the bargaining team, in an e-mailed statement. “We are not willing to give up what we already have. People who are getting double digit wage increases don’t have the right to paint a picture of substandard care for us.”
The union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO and a member of National Nurses United.
UMHS declined to comment on specific points of negotiation, but said in a statement Tuesday it looked forward to resuming talks Aug. 3.
Members of the union include staff nurses and advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and certified nurse midwives. The average UMHS staff nurse's pay rate is $33.74 per hour or $70,179 annually, according to the health system. The median pay is $$33.92 hourly or 70,553.