Rally to be held Thursday as stalemate between nurses, UPHS continues

HANCOCK — As nurses at UP Health System – Marquette plead for more incentives to pick up extra shifts due to short staffing, contract negotiations between the Michigan Nurses Association and another UPHS-affiliated hospital remain at a stalemate.

Last week, nurses at UPHS – Marquette expressed their frustrations with LifePoint and Apollo, UPHS’ corporate ownership group, in a letter posted to the Union Portal – RN Staff Council MGH/DLP Facebook page. The letter cited “insulting” incentive offers and the corporation’s failure to address the ongoing staffing crisis.

Meanwhile in Hancock, nurses are seeking a new contract in the midst of a staffing shortage at UPHS – Portage.

That’s why the MNA has organized a rally to take place Thursday on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. The rally will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and is being organized to “call on LifePoint and Apollo, the for-profit private equity firm that owns UPHS, to negotiate a fair contract that puts patients first,” a news release states. “After years of frustrations with the current owners of UPHS, nurses say that the out-of-state for-profit private equity firm must either invest in the community or leave.”

LifePoint’s headquarters are located in Brentwood, Tennessee, 870 miles from the UPHS campus in Marquette.

Leanne Pennala, a registered nurse at UPHS – Portage and who is on the MNA’s bargaining team, said negotiations at the Portage campus have been ongoing since May.

“We’re in the middle of negotiations,” she said. “We’ve been doing it since May and have extended our contract three times now. We’re trying to get a competitive wage in order to be the same as neighboring hospitals. Our wages are so low right now, that it’s difficult to recruit new nurses and retain the nurses we have.”

Pennala has been a nurse for more than 14 years. She said the communication received from corporate has been minimal.

“It’s been a very minimal response,” she said. “We haven’t been heard with what we’ve been asking for. That’s why we want to rally together to make them listen and let our voices be heard.”

Pennala said she expects a great turnout for Thursday’s event.

“We have large support between the unions here,” she said. “We have some from the teachers union coming, some from the MNA union in Marquette and of course, the MNA in Lower Michigan to come support as well.”

UPHS issued the following statement regarding Thursday’s rally:

“The employees represented by the Michigan Nurses Association are critical members of our team, and we support them and respect their right to assemble and speak freely to the community they serve. We understand that the hospital’s contract negotiations with the MNA will likely be addressed. While we cannot comment on specific elements of those negotiations out of respect for the bargaining process, we are confident that the result will be a mutually agreeable contract for all. In the meantime, please rest assured that we will not be distracted from providing excellent care to our patients and community.

“UP Health System – Portage takes very seriously our commitment to delivering high-quality, safe and compassionate care close to home, and we strive daily to create excellent workplaces for our employees. Especially during this pandemic, which has arguably been the most challenging situation the health care industry has ever faced, we want to recognize and support our staff and clinical teams who have cared for our patients during this time.”

Danielle Hamlin, a registered nurse at UPHS – Portage and president of the MNA for Portage, said reaching any sort of agreement has been a struggle so far.

“We signed an extension three times,” she said. “We’re still short-staffed. We are just trying to find a way to come to a fair contract to retain and recruit new employees, and we’re having trouble doing that.”

Organizers emphasized that Thursday’s rally is not a work stoppage or strike, and that all participants are attending outside of work hours. Traffic flow will not disrupt traffic or patient care at the Portage campus.

“We want to have fair staffing and provide the best care to the community that we can,” Hamlin said.


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