Nurses union to present petitions on staffing

MARQUETTE — Just days after the expiration of their employment contract, the nurses at UP Health System-Marquette will present a petition containing thousands of signatures urging the hospital to consider what the union terms safe staffing proposals.

Members of the UPHS-Marquette RN Staff Council/Michigan Nurses Association will share the results of the petition at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Michigan Nurses Association press release.

The petition language states: “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 release states that in addition to delivering the results of the petition to hospital management, nurses will speak about conditions at the hospital during the press conference.

Stephanie DePetro, chief grievance steward on the registered nurses council and member of the bargaining team, in a message confirmed reports that nurses are working 16-hour shifts on a “regular basis” at UPHS-Marquette “as a result of short staffing” levels.

“We have very talented, very smart, very caring nurses that work at this hospital,” DePetro said. “But when your concerns are constantly being downplayed by management about staffing problems and the number of hours you are working and the number of patients you are taking care of — that tends to weigh on you. Because you are caring for a human being, you are caring for a person in that bed, they are not just a number to us.”

Hospital administrators in a statement issued today said there is a nursing shortage across the U.S., something they’ve recognized as being an issue for the Upper Peninsula as well, and that they are continuing to work on solutions.

“At UP Health System-Marquette, our people are our priority, and we are absolutely committed to delivering high-quality patient care and creating excellent workplaces for our employees,” the statement read.

The nurses have been bargaining with the hospital administration since before their contract expired in May, DePetro said. A two-month contract extension expired Friday.

“We are currently working without a contract,” DePetro said. “We continue to go to the bargaining table to try to work out these issues with the hospital. We have bargaining dates on the calendar, and we will continue to bargain in good faith, as we have been since day one.”

Administrators said they are negotiating “in good faith” with the nurses association to “develop a contract that meets the needs of our nursing staff and hospital,” but declined to comment further while negotiations remain open.

DePetro, who has worked as a nurse at the hospital in Marquette for about nine years, acknowledged that hospitals nationwide face problems with retaining nurses, but notes the issue at UPHS may go deeper than national trends.

“Short staffing is always an issue, but it has never been an issue for this long and as severe as it has been,” DePetro said. “I would say in the last three to four years the staffing issue has become more noticeable and more prevalent.”

DePetro said the number of signatures on the petition grows daily.

“We are still collecting signatures every day, every day we get more and more signatures,” DePetro said. “That number, when we go on Tuesday will be announced, but every minute we are collecting new signatures so it’s a rolling number.”

DePetro said nurses have obtained signatures from across the Upper Peninsula.

“We don’t just take care of patients in our county, we get patients from Baraga County, we get patients from Schoolcraft County, we get patients from Luce County. We have nurses that take care of patients from across this U.P. that also live across the U.P.,” DePetro said. “While the majority of patients and nurses do live in the Marquette County area we provide care to everybody here, and we are concerned about everybody.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.