Try to run a hospital without nurses. It can’t be done. If people didn’t need nursing care, they would go home. The hospital runs on the backs of the nurses. You can’t pull people from other departments, or cross-train employees. So… if the nurses go on strike you either have to hire a tremendous number of replacements at huge cost (who would still need orientation to the various units and policies), or close. It’s possible the folks at Duke LifePoint have underestimated the “sisu” or just plain guts of the people in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, because the nurses have struck before and they could do it again.
Nurses at Duke LifePoint’s Marquette General Hospital took to the streets yesterday, to protest the administration’s refusal to address their concerns about unsafe staffing. Supported by community members, hundreds of people gathered in this small, somewhat isolated community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to march with staff RN’s. The nurses had collected and delivered over 3700 signatures on a petition calling for the hospital to bargain in good faith regarding staffing. The petition reads: “I am signing this petition to urge Duke LifePoint/UPHS Marquette to bargain with nurses for an agreement that ensures guaranteed minimum RN staffing levels that are safe for patients, in every department and on every shift.”
The nurses, in contract negotiations since April, are requesting that language be inserted that establishes minimum nurse staffing levels. Although they had agreed to a two-month extension of the previous contract, that contract lapsed in late July due to the administration’s refusal to address staffing levels. Scott Balko, RN – President of the Marquette RN Staff Council/Michigan Nurses Association – described the situation saying, “Duke LifePoint understaffs and overworks nurses to the point that quality of care is compromised. Patients at UPHS Marquette deserve better. Nurses are fighting for safe staffing, and the success of our petition shows that members of this community are with us.”
What may be unique about the Marquette RN Staff Council (RNSC) is it’s history and longevity. Visionary nurses in the 1960’s saw the need for Marquette’s nurses to be represented by a professional labor union. In 1968, the National Labor Relations Board certified the election that established the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) as the entity representing the RNSC in contract negotiations. The RNSC is now the professional labor organization of the Registered Nurse staff at Marquette General Hospital, which is represented by MNA and affiliated with the AFL-CIO. In the last 45 years, although more than a dozen contracts have been successfully negotiated, the nurses have gone out on strike twice. They could do it again.
Previously the hospital responded by merely stating that there is a national nursing shortage. This is not true in Marquette, where Northern Michigan University graduates BSN’s twice a year (December and May), and any number of other Upper Peninsula universities and community colleges offer LPN, ADN, and BSN, and RN-to-BSN programs. In fact, the hospital has been laying off nursing staff. Marquette is in the unusual position of having an RN surplus!
The hospital updated their response after the petitions were delivered, now claiming that, “UP Health System – Marquette takes very seriously our commitment to deliver high-quality, safe and compassionate care close to home, and we strive daily to create excellent workplaces for our employees. In regard to today’s events, we respect every person’s right to assemble and speak freely, and we value the input of everyone in our community. We are unable to comment further because we are currently negotiating with the Michigan Nurses Association union to develop a contract that meets the needs of our nursing staff and hospital.”
If they want to develop a contract that meets the needs of the nursing staff and patients, they are going to need to put their money where their mouths are. Otherwise, they may be faced with no nurses…and no patients. It is unwise to test the mettle of a Yooper (people who live in the Upper Peninsula). Especially when they are advocating for patient safety.