UW Health nurses take to social media to argue for union representation

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Nurses at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison have launched a social media campaign amid their quest for a union and collective bargaining rights, The Badger Herald reported Nov. 17.

As part of their campaign, nurses have taken to Facebook with the hashtag #whyuwnursesneedaunion to detail their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and the reasoning behind the unionization push. The workers — while noting that the views they post about are their own and not those of their employer — cite concerns over staffing, pay and working conditions.

"I want to take a moment to share what I’ve been experiencing at UW Health. It's never been a secret that I'm 'pro-union,'" Trisha Wingert wrote Oct. 27 alongside a photo of herself. "If you've been with me long enough, you'll remember pics of me protesting downtown during the days of Act 10. Once our final contract ended, I have seen firsthand the effects of no longer having representation. The cost of insurance premiums has risen, wage increases have been stagnant, staffing ratios are ignored and our concerns for patient and nurse safety fall on deaf ears."

Nurses lost their SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin representation when their contract expired in 2014 when former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's signed into law Act 10 in 2011, according to UnionVoiceatUWHealth.org

Since then, the nurses have advocated for the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board to voluntarily recognize the union so they once again have representation.

The union contends the board may voluntarily recognize nurses as a union and start negotiating a contract to address concerns around safe staffing, continuing education, affordable benefits, fair scheduling and quality patient care.

"Nurses are calling on employers, including UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority, to recognize their union, and are urging policymakers to ensure collective bargaining rights for all public employees. Nurses are vowing to dramatically ramp up their demand for a union voice, including public actions, social media, advertising and further outreach to elected officials," SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin said in a news release issued in March.

In a statement shared with Becker's, UW Health said the system has hired about 300 new nurses over the last two years, and the system's nurse turnover rate is about 10 percent, which is well below the national average.

Staff-to-patient ratios at UW Health are also among the best in the nation, the system said.

UW Health, however, acknowledged staffing challenges. As of October, UW Health had more than 3,400 nurses on staff and about 300 nursing openings.

Regarding Act 10, UW Health is working with an employee relations consultant and a legal expert to determine what is allowed under the law, UW Health press secretary Emily Kumlien told The Badger Herald.

UW Health cited a memorandum written in May about Act 10 by Margit Kelley, senior staff attorney with the Wisconsin Legislative Council. Ms. Kelley writes that University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board "may not formally or voluntarily recognize a union for purposes of collective bargaining on wages, hours and conditions of employment, but a union representing employees may seek to 'meet and consult' with UWHCA to discuss those topics."

UW Health also pointed to a statement the board made on the issue in February 2020, which says in part that the board agrees with management that there is room for improvement in two-way communication between employees and management.

The full text of the statement is available here.

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