Giant billboard tells Michigan residents of hospital’s conflict with union nurses

CLEMENS, Mich.—There’s a giant billboard looming over a main highway near the big McLaren-Macomb Hospital in the Detroit suburb of Mount Clemens, Mich. It tells local residents – and everybody else – all you need to know about the hospital’s conflict with its registered nurses.


It shows a blue-smocked RN carrying a tray. “Local 40 Nurses,” a yellow ribbon banner reads. “Protecting our community, fighting for safe staffing, quality patient care.”


The billboard, sponsored by Office and Professional Employees Local 40, summarizes the controversy between the RNs and the hospital management. The discord forced the union to file 200 grievances against the hospital bosses in the last few months, and drove a rally and informational picketing there during the evening rush hour on August 1.


Safe staffing is a key cause for nurses’ unions nationwide, not just OPEIU but National Nurses United and nurses’ affiliates at the Steelworkers, the Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association and others. Thus the billboard erected in Mount Clemens.


There’s a reason the nurses push safe staffing at the McLaren-Macomb, Local 40 President Jeff Morawski said in a telephone interview with Press Associates Union News Service. Short-staffing hurts nursing care for patients, and the nurses themselves: Yet another violent patient recently injured yet another RN in a short-staffed ward.


The patient “knocked her unconscious and she’s missed time on the job” with concussions and injuries, Morawski says. The conditions in the ward were so bad, he adds, that somebody – not the union – anonymously called the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate. It sent inspectors.


The hospital counters by pushing pay. It wants to give the most-veteran nurses far less over three years than it wants to pay rookies: 11.2 percent for the least-experienced RNs versus, after pay scale steps, less than 3 percent for the veterans, plus a lump sum signing bonus. Several bargaining sessions are scheduled through early September. Morawski said the union had to fight just to get the bosses to agree to talk.


The RNs say low pay is only one problem. The union wants a 4-year pact, with better and equalized raises. Under its proposed raises, McLaren-Macomb would still pay RNs less than nearby unionized Henry Ford Hospital, Morawski notes.


Patient care is a bigger one. Thus the rally, which drew public support from at least two prominent local Democrats: Gubernatorial hopeful Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a public health special-ist, and state legislator Andy Levin, running to succeed his father, Sander Levin, in the state’s 9th Congressional District. In April, Local 40 hosted a town hall on the hospital’s problems, too.


“They” – the bosses – “want to make part of the Intensive Care Unit into a step-down unit” of intermediate care, halfway between an ICU and a regular ward, Morawski explained. “And they want to take away the safe-staffing ratios” the union is defending. Those ratios are in the current pact, which expired last July.


And in April, the hospital held a job fair, seeking to allegedly hire 30 more experienced RNs. Instead, they brought in 30 “who haven’t even taken their (medical) boards yet,” Morawski adds. “We’d love to have those 30 in the union, but, dammit, we want to retain the nurses we already have and show them we care for them.”


Management “doesn’t care about the nurses who have been here 15 or 20 or 30 or 40 years. They want to get them out of here and hire people they can pay $10 less an hour to. But they can’t fill positions in the ICU, the Cardiac Care Unit and the Emergency Room” at the pay the hospital offers.


Nevertheless, the hospital sticks by its offer, though the union says it could afford more. News reports earlier this year saluted McLaren-Macomb’s groundbreaking on a $68 million new emergency medical tower. And Morawski noted the GOP-passed tax cut for corporations and the rich raises the taxes on paid CEOs of non-profit organizations, such as the hospital.


“’We have to account for that in our budget,’ their bargainers tell us,” Morawski says. “Well, bring in the CEO and the chief financial officer” to explain, especially since management’s bargainers say they must check everything with those two officials.


All this forced Local 40 to consider a strike authorization vote, Morawski said. If it passes and the parent union agrees, the RNs must give the hospital a legally required pre-strike notice before they walk.

Source: PAI