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Authorization vote: Support for RN strike at UPHS-M said to be ‘overwhelming’

MARQUETTE — Following a two-day vote over the weekend, unionized nurses of UP Health System-Marquette, a Duke LifePoint hospital, authorized to go on strike. The outcome was “overwhelming,” with the majority of voters supporting a strike, according to a release from the Michigan Nurses Association.

Nurses have cited staffing levels which they believe to be unsafe for patients as a primary reason for authorizing the strike.

Voting closed at 9 p.m. on Saturday, and at that time, no strike date had been set. The elected nurse bargaining team has the authority to call a strike, and by law, they are required to give the hospital 10 days notice, the release states.

Members of the UPHS-Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA have been in contract negotiations with hospital administrators since April 18, 2017. They’ve been working without a contract since July 28 after a two-month extension expired.

“We have been in negotiations for a little over a year now. It is long overdue for Duke LifePoint to agree to a contract that includes meaningful safe staffing language,” Sam Ditty, staffing pool registered nurse and member of the bargaining team, said in a release.

In August, members of the MNA delivered a report to the state of Michigan that detailed hundreds of allegedly unsafe and dangerous conditions patients face at the hospital due to poor staffing levels. The union previously held a two-day strike Oct. 5 and 6 after negotiations to address staffing concerns were not met.

“Very little has changed since our first strike in October,” Scott Balko, operating room RN and president of the UPHS-Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA, said in a release. “Nurses still take the decision to strike very seriously, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our practice and the community that we serve.”

Since the MNA and hospital administrators are still negotiating contracts, with one bargaining session scheduled today, hospital officials said concerns should be brought to the bargaining table rather than striking.

“We are disappointed with union leadership’s decision to schedule another strike authorization vote, rather than focusing their efforts at the bargaining table. For months now, we have been dedicated to reaching a collective bargaining agreement that meets the needs of all parties, and this action by the MNA at this time is an unhelpful distraction,” Victor Harrington, UPHS-Marquette’s regional director of marketing and business development, said in a prepared statement. “We are not sure how a strike would serve anyone’s interests. Regardless, we are continuing to work in good faith to finalize an equitable and responsible labor agreement, and we are scheduled to continue our negotiations with the MNA (today), May 8, May 9, May 22 and May 24. We remain hopeful that we will be able to find the common ground necessary to reach a final agreement. As always, patient safety and high-quality care remain our top priority, and we are proud to continue providing the best for our community.”