Michigan Medicine nurses file federal lawsuit as potential strike looms

Nurses at Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine filed a federal lawsuit over First Amendment rights in the same week they are voting on a possible strike.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court in Detroit. It calls for an immediate injunction to uphold nurses' First Amendment rights to free expression at work, according to the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council, a Michigan Nurses Association affiliate representing more than 5,700 Michigan Medicine nurses.

"Our nurse bargaining team believes it is time to hold management accountable for bad faith bargaining, making changes to our working conditions without any negotiations and discriminating against RNs for exercising our right to free speech," said Megan Duncan, RN, a nurse at Ann Arbor-based University Hospital and a UMPNC member.

The union said the lawsuit claims university officials, including  Michigan Medicine President David Spahlinger, MD, are prohibiting nurses from exercising their First Amendment rights as expressed on T-shirts, buttons and through other means on the job.

In addition to the lawsuit, nurses filed various unfair labor practice charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, alleging the health system engaged in bad-faith bargaining; changed work shifts without notifying or negotiating with UMPNC; and discriminated against nurses, according to the union.

The allegations come amid contract negotiations between the nurses and Michigan Medicine, and as nurses are slated to continue voting this week on whether to authorize a strike. The voting began Sept. 10 and will continue through Sept. 16.

Mary Masson, Michigan Medicine spokesperson, told Becker's the health system is "confident all of its efforts in these negotiations have been consistent with the First Amendment and putting our patients first. We will vigorously defend the university from this lawsuit that further hinders our ability to reach a contract agreement."

"We remain opposed to the union's efforts to bring labor negotiations into patient care areas. We stand ready to continue contract talks," she said.

She also stressed the importance of Michigan Medicine's latest contract offer, which consists of a compensation package that includes across-the-board increases of at least 3 percent, along with a paid maternal/parental leave program.

As far as staffing, Ms. Masson cited Michigan Medicine's No. 5 national ranking on U.S. News & World Report's 2018-19 Honor Roll, which she said is partially representative of the health system's nurse-to -patient ratios.

"Our ratios are in the top 2 percent of all hospitals in the country. We accomplished this without any contractual requirement to do so because excellent nurse staffing supports excellent patient outcomes. We remain committed to providing this level of staffing," she said.

Ms. Masson noted Michigan law states it illegal for public employees to strike, and said any striking employees will not be paid during the walkout.

More information about contract negotiations is available here.


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