Staffing shortage ignites nurses’ union battle at Michigan hospital

Labor shortages may lead to a registered nurses’ strike at McLaren Macomb Hospital.

Roughly 80% of the 558 nurses represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 40 working at McLaren Macomb voted this week to strike if a new contract isn’t ratified by the end of July. The current contract expires July 27.

At issue for the nurses is the lack of support staff. Jeff Morawski, president of Local 40, said more and more work has been pushed onto the hospital’s registered nurses due to a lack of patient sitters, lab technicians and patient care assistants or medical assistants.

“It’s too much,” Morawski said. “Ancillary staff is huge. Without enough staffing, all that work gets pushed onto the nurses. Our people are just tired.”

Negotiations between the hospital and the union are breaking down, as the hospital says it isn’t able to find the workers the nurses union wants hired.

“We are disappointed OPEIU Local 40 has voted to authorize a strike at McLaren Macomb and that they intend to take nurses away from patient care in order to strike,” the hospital said in a statement. “The timing of this vote coincides with the difficult time that all hospitals have had recruiting and retaining nurses during the pandemic and is not a coincidence. This is an unconscionable attempt by select union representatives to use the pandemic as leverage at the bargaining table.”

The two parties have been negotiating since Feb. 1.

Staffing shortages remain a huge problem across the health care industry, as Crain’s reported Wednesday.

But Morawski said the union has to force the hospital to address the shortages because patient care is slipping and more and more nurses are walking out the door due to the working conditions.

“We’ve lost more than 50 nurses in the last six months,” Morawski said. “They are putting money into wages and we’re happy with that, but they need to be putting money into retention and hiring. We understand it’s difficult to hire right now, but unless they do something, people are going to walk. We have many nurses that want to walk right now. We know a strike isn’t good for anybody, the patients or the community. But they have the money to hire and they need to do it.”

McLaren Macomb challenges the premise of striking during a staffing shortage.

“Our nation’s nursing shortage is a well-documented fact, exacerbated by the current hiring crisis experienced at most hospitals and many industries across the country,” the hospital said in a statement to Crain’s. “OPEIU’s decision to strike will only compound the issue of limited nursing staff.”

Hazard pay during the pandemic was another issue for the nurses, Morawski said.

While other health systems increased pay or paid bonuses during the pandemic — Beaumont and Michigan Medicine paid out bonuses to frontline workers, and Beaumont and Henry Ford hiked minimum wages — McLaren Macomb did not, Morawski said.

“They want recognition,” Morawski said. “There was no bonuses during COVID while nurses were being pulled to different units and taking on extra shifts. And it continues today. There is a lack of value and respect.”

McLaren Macomb said its current offer contains $2,000 “nurse appreciation” bonus and a 15.5% increase in wages to better retention and attraction. The offer also includes a plan to increase staffing.

McLaren said it’s preparing for a strike and has a plan in place to remain operational of all 588 nurses walk out.

“Our hospital will remain open and fully operational during OPEIU’s strike, should it occur,” the hospital said in a statement. “We have been preparing for the unfortunate possibility of the union taking nurses away from patients’ bedsides to walk a picket line. We are implementing a comprehensive strike plan to ensure minimal, if any, disruption for those receiving care or visiting our hospital during OPEIU’s strike. We have contracted with a national firm to provide licensed, experienced temporary replacement nurses who will care for patients during the strike. We are prepared and committed to continually provide high-quality care for our community.”


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