Today, the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board walked out of an open meeting attended by representatives of the new UW Nurses Union. The Board allowed members of the union to speak for fifteen minutes before voting to move into a closed session.
The Board released a statement last month saying that, because of Act 10, which limited collective bargaining rights under former Governor Scott Walker, it could not engage with the union.
According to Ann Louise Tetreault, vice President at SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, what the nurses are asking for doesn’t involve collective bargaining.
“We’re not asking for collective bargaining agreement, we’re asking for voluntary recognition of the union rights of the nurses,” says Tetreault. “We’re asking for Just Cause provisions to be put back in place and Weingarten Rights so that people will not be disciplined when they’re standing up for their patients or they speak about unsafe staffing conditions. So Weingarten Rights, Just Cause, Meet and Confer, and recognizing the union.”
Tetreault says she doesn’t know anyone who was fired for speaking out about working conditions, but she’s concerned that it could happen if the union isn’t recognized.
UW Health employs over 21,000 people, making it one of Madison’s largest employers. But working conditions and strained resources have led to experienced professionals leaving the hospital. This has made patient care more difficult, which is what ultimately convinced the nurses to unionize.
The union currently has the support of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, which passed a resolution encouraging the hospital board to meet with them last Thursday.
State Representative Melissa Sargent, a Democrat from Madison, donated a kidney to her father with the help of staff at UW Health.
Sargent appeared with the union members today in a show of support, saying that work conditions for nurses can be a serious matter.
“I owe my life to the nursing staff across the street, and I can say with utmost significance that I am very thankful to the nursing staff that were there and able to provide for me the care that I needed,” says Sargent. “Rather than being unable to do it, because of exhaustion from working too many hours, or not being able to get to me in time because of under-staffing and overloaded patient care cases. The reality is that these dynamics can in fact be a matter of life and death.”
Since the board has shown no interest in recognizing the union, its future is in doubt.
Alan Kaplan, the Chief Executive Officer at UW Health, released a statement saying they would be working with employees at the UW Hospital to improve conditions, but did not say they would recognize the union.
Jeanette Kelty, a retired nurse who supports the union, says she was let down by d the meeting with the board.
“I’m very disappointed. I think the questions that were asked by the speakers were, point-on, the subject and what we need to be addressing, so I’m very disappointed they didn’t bother to really answer any of those questions,” says Kelty. “Now they’re in closed session. They’re not recognizing that the nurses, the people that, you know, they really need to be speaking to are here. I’m very, very disappointed. It’s not right.”
Kelty says the next step is to keep the public informed and drum up support for the union’s efforts.