University of Michigan nurses: 'We will not be ignored'
Jaquie Taylor marched in front of the University of Michigan Health System to support her daughter, who became a nurse after witnessing the nursing care an uncle with multiple sclerosis received.
Taylor was among more than 400 nurses and supporters who rallied and picketed for over two hours Wednesday evening in support of a favorable outcome in a contested contract negotiation between the 4,000-member nurses union and its employer.
“Patients are given the best care here,” Taylor said. “They (the nurses) should be paid for it. They’re dedicated in what they do.”
At issue in the ongoing contract dispute are changes to paid time off, overtime and health insurance premiums the nurses characterize as major concessions. The two sides have met more than 40 times since April to try to resolve their differences.
They return to the bargaining table on Thursday, with the help of a state-appointed mediator, said Ann Kettering Sincox, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Nurses Association, the collective bargaining representative for U-M's nurses.
Additionally, both sides have begun a “fact finding” period. That means the nurses and U-M will gather evidence to present to a state-appointed “fact finder” at a formal hearing. Then, the fact finder will make a non-binding recommendation on a new contract, said Ruthanne Okum, the director of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, which oversees the process.
Speakers at a rally before the march included State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, recently elected Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and others.
With protesters carrying signs with slogans like “Heal America, Tax Wall Street,” and speakers characterizing the concessions as an “attack on middle class working families,” the message reflected the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests sweeping the nation.
Katie Oppenheim, president of the U-M Professional Nurse Council, told the crowd a favorable contract would ensure U-M retained high quality and highly trained nurses.
"We will not be ignored," she said.
The nurses left Liberty Plaza at East Liberty and South Division streets, chanting slogans like “U of M, heads up, the nurses won’t give up,” before circling in front of University Hospital on East Medical Center Drive.
The health system's leaders say it faces a tough budget year and harder times ahead, brought on in part by the opening of the new children and women's hospital and changes required by federal health care reform, like a new electronic records system.
At a "state of the health system" address in September, UMHS CEO Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said various changes under health care reform will cost the health system $100 million over seven years. She also said the health system is committed to competitive wages and benefits packages for its nurses.