Hundreds gather in solidarity with nurses

Registered nurses of UPHS-Marquette began a 48-hour strike this morning to rally for safer staffing levels. "UP nurses are prepared to stand in solidarity in our fight for safer staffing," said Scott Balko, RN and president of the UPHS Marquette RN Staff Council. RN's and other supporters in the community form a picket line around the UPHS-Marquette building.

MARQUETTE — After several unsuccessful bargaining negotiations between UP Health System-Marquette nurses and the hospital, hundreds of nurses, union workers and community members were marching the block of College Avenue this morning for the start of a two-day strike that nurses say concern safe-staffing levels.

Local insulators, carpenters, iron and steelworker union members held signs in solidarity. Donuts and hot coffee were dropped off for protesters in front of the emergency room by a an officer in a police car. The City of Marquette Fire Department drove down Magnetic Street, waving at the nurses, honking and smiling as the fire truck’s lights and alarms blared.

Hundreds gathered today for the same reason — to support local nurses.

“We are here walking to support our brothers and sisters in the community,” said president of Marquette Alger Community Labor Council Rich Helgren. “Nurses have been working unreasonable hours for some time now. It’s not about wages — it’s about the patients. The hospital needs safe staffing to provide the best care because patients deserve the best.”

Helgren, also a United Steelworkers Local 4950 member, stated that some union workers employed at the new hospital site on Baraga Avenue were also there in solidarity with nurses.

“There are a lot of iron workers, electricians, steelworkers and insulators here today to show their support,” Helgren said.

Most of the protestors waved signs in the air as they chanted “When nurses are outside there’s something wrong inside.” Many of the nurses wore bright red shirts with “this was our house first” stated in thick letters.

Registered nurse Tammy Sustarich, who works in the intensive care unit, said she’s worked at the hospital for 30 years and last week she worked an 18-hour shift.

“We have been working 16-hour shifts for the last three years,” Sustarich said. “This was our house first. We’ve made sacrifices for this hospital. Our families have made sacrifices so we could be here and we’re not going to let a big corporation take away our compassion. When Duke LifePoint first bought the hospital they kept telling the community that they were doing us a service. This is not a service — this is a shame.”

As Sustarich spoke with The Mining Journal a community member with tears in her eyes hugged and thanked her.

“That was the wife of a former patient of mine — who is a walking miracle. That’s who we’re doing this for. This is what this is all about,” Sustarich said through glistening eyes. “You know that saying of six degrees of separation? It’s only one degree in the Upper Peninsula.”

Regional director and marketing manager of UPHS Victor Harrington stated that hospital management had high hopes of avoiding a strike but since negotiations have yet been unsuccessful, they will continue to bargain in good faith.

“While we had hoped to avoid a strike, we have been preparing for this possibility and have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure that there is absolutely no interruption in care for our patients and community members,” Harrington said in a statement. “Right now, and always, our focus is on delivering high-quality care to our community. We will be fully staffed with highly qualified temporary nurses for the duration of the strike and assure the community that our commitment to patient care will be unchanged.”

According to Harrington, the hospital is “pleased to announce that they are fully staffed for the strike and the hospital is 100 percent operational.”

Harrington also told The Mining Journal: “We have patients still coming in for appointments. We are open 24/7 and will continue to give our patients quality health care. We will continue to negotiate with nurses in good faith. Unfortunately an agreement hasn’t been reached yet but certainly our intent is to find an agreement on all parties.”

The strike will continue until 6:59 a.m. Saturday. Nurses and hospital management will continue negotiating until an agreement is met.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.