Nurses have filed charges against one of northern Michigan’s largest hospitals. The Michigan Nurses Association says Munson Medical Center in Traverse City is not operating in “good faith” during contract negotiations.
Last year, around a thousand nurses at Munson Medical Center unionized and have been working toward a new contract. James Walker is a Munson nurse and he says they unionized for a number of reasons.
“Ensuring that we have a stronger voice, that we can guarantee the highest quality of care for our patients, ... safe staffing ratios, things like that, Walker says.”
One staffing issue, he says, was mandatory overtime. He says one unit was forcing nurses to work hours beyond their regular schedule.
“In many cases these were nurses that would normally work eight hours, and they would be expected to work 16 hours. This happened over an entire calendar year," says Walker. "And rather than filling positions, filling holes, they were just mandating these nurses to stay over, which is dangerous.”
Dangerous for both the patients and the nurses, he says.
Munson Medical Center is ranked the seventh best hospital in Michigan by U.S. News and World Report.
"We already think Munson is a good hospital," Walker says. "We want to make it a better hospital. We want to make it the best hospital."
That’s why they’re trying to come up with a new contract, he says.
But now the nurses union says Munson leaders are breaking the law in contract negotiations. In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union says a couple of things. First, they say Munson officials are refusing to negotiate things like salary and benefits until all non-financial agreements are made. They say this is a stalling tactic.
Rachel Roe, vice president and general counsel for Munson Healthcare, agrees they are waiting to talk about finances.
“Both collective bargaining committees, agreed at the start of negotiations in December 2017 to hold any discussion about economic topics until completion on other issues – what we call non-economic topics, says Roe.”
A union representative says there was no agreement like that.
Punishing union support
The union also alleges Munson has been penalizing nurses for supporting the union, which would be illegal.
Walker says Munson is disciplining nurses who support the union and changing uniform policies to limit union apparel.
Rachel Roe rejects those accusations.
“I’m confident that Munson Medical Center has acted within the law," Roe says. "That is what we train our managers, and that is what we communicate continually to our employees.”
Roe says she doesn’t think these charges will affect negotiations moving forward.
“It’s really separate and apart from the collective bargaining that occurs on a regular basis here in Traverse City," she says.
She says most first-time union contract negotiations take one to two years to complete, and it’s been eight months with the nurses so far. She says Munson is reviewing the union’s proposals and will respond.
The charges will be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board.