University of Michigan nurses authorize strike

Members of the Michigan Nurses Association voted to authorize nurse negotiation leaders to call a strike at the University of Michigan.

The union, an affiliate of National Nurses United and AFL-CIO, represents about 13,000 registered nurses and healthcare professionals in Michigan, including workers employed by the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan regents hold the contract with the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, the largest bargaining unit of the Michigan Nurses Association. 

Union members voted from Aug. 27 through Sept. 2 on whether to authorize nurse negotiation leaders to call a strike. More than 4,000 nurses voted, with 96 percent voting in favor of strike authorization, according to a Sept. 2 union news release. The vote does not mean a strike is imminent. However, it means the union could schedule one.

A total of 6,200 University of Michigan Health nurses have been working without a new contract since July 1; they are working under the terms of the expired agreement, according to hospital and union statements. The University of Michigan Health, the clinical division of Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine, told Becker's in a statement that during negotiations, "We are confident we have put together a compelling and generous proposal." The University of Michigan Health pointed to specifics of its proposal, including a $245 million investment and 21 percent base pay increase over four years; a $4,000 bonus for each bargaining unit member; and safely eliminating mandatory overtime. According to the health system statement, the proposal also includes "expanded staffing guidelines to maintain our excellent, industry-leading staffing levels."

The union contends the University of Michigan has refused to bargain over safe workloads regarding the number of patients assigned per nurse and engaged in bad faith bargaining. As a result, it filed a lawsuit Aug. 15 and announced the planned strike authorization vote Aug. 19. In its Sept. 2 release, the union noted the lawsuit as well as other complaints it has filed against the University of Michigan. Among the union's allegations are that the university "engaged in bad faith bargaining by unilaterally terminating an incentive payment for nurses in University of Michigan Medical Group-run areas." The union also alleges the university "retaliated against multiple nurses for engaging in protected union activity."

Both sides are scheduled to return to negotiations on Sept. 6. 

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