As registered nurses’ strike approaches, goodwill needed

Most people are aware that negotiations between UP Health System-Marquette officials and registered nurses are currently taking place.

We are also aware that a strike date has been set by the nurses for Oct 5-6. It is unfortunate that negotiations have not progressed well enough to get a settlement at this point. We understand the process that takes place during negotiations with both sides looking out for the best interest of the people they represent.

We must all be aware during this process that both sides will share some talking points in the media during negotiations. What everyone has to do with that information is wait to see how accurate any of it actually is.

The nurses have turned over documents to the state of Michigan for investigation concerning allegations of dangerous conditions patients face at UP Health System-Marquette. We will be interested in seeing a report from the state regarding these charges.

If they are found to be accurate, then we trust UPHS-M will take measures to correct the concerns. If they are found not to be accurate, then those concerns could be looked at as a ploy by the nurses during negotiations to win favor with people in the community. We look forward to the findings of the investigation being released.

We recognize the right of the nurses to negotiate for wages, benefits and working conditions. We also recognize the right of the company to negotiate a contract that allows them to compete in the current very challenging health care business.

We believe that the majority of the nurses are top quality professionals with a real concern for their patients. We also believe that UPHS-M knows that they have to treat their employees well to keep them happy.

If they can keep their employees happy, then the patients should also be happy with the care they receive.

The hospital also has to run a business that is financially viable. In today’s challenging health care market, that is not an easy task. Many hospitals have closed over the past several years because they have been unable to operate successfully in the challenging market.

In a story in Wednesday’s newspaper, Scott Balko, a registered nurse and president of the local Michigan Nurses Association chapter, said when referring to wages being offered to temporary nurses: “These wages are more than double what UPHS-Marquette nurses earn. It is appalling that Duke LifePoint, (UP Health System’s parent company) would invest that money in temporary help and not in its staff, and its ability to care for the patients at its own hospital.”

What should be considered here is that if were not for the strike vote, the hospital would not need to bring in temporary nurses. The cost associated with bringing in temporary nurses is not an apples to apples comparison because those wages do not include benefits for pensions or health care and associated cost.

They also have to offer a wage that will motivate temporary nurses to accept the inconveniences associated with accepting a temporary job.

UPHS-M also has an obligation to its patients to provide a safe and healthy environment for them to be cared for while staying at the hospital even if that means paying an extremely high cost for temporary nurses.

What’s unfortunate is that all of this is taking place because the two sides are unable to come to an agreement that they can both agree on.

A federal mediator has been brought in to try and get an agreement between both sides. We hope the mediator can bring both sides closer together and hopefully there won’t be a need for a strike or temporary nurses.

What needs to be considered by both sides is that the confidence that the community has in having their health care done locally is being challenged and that can have an adverse impact on a successful future for the hospital.

We hope the federal mediator can get both sides to find common ground and come up with a contract that is fair and equitable for all parties.