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U of M nurses sue university for refusal to bargain on workload

University of Michigan Ann Arbor Hospital

University of Michigan nurses, through their union, Michigan Nurses Association - University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, filed suit Monday against the University of Michigan for its “refusal to bargain over safe workloads.”

The suit alleges that the university has refused to negotiate workload parameters. Union president Renee Curtis said she and her colleagues want a say in the patient-to-nurse ratio.

The union also filed an unfair labor charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. The charge cited several alleged exchanges between the university and the union negotiators. The university asked the union to drop proposals that would revise staffing rules, according to the union.

Negotiations began in March, the union said, and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. The previous contract expired on July 1. The university is honoring the previous contract until there’s a new one in place.

Curtis said her bargaining team proposed contract language about how many patients nurses should care for at once. Speaking to the board of regents in May, Curtis said patients are not getting the care they need due to what she said were unsustainable staffing practices. “We are being challenged every single day that we work to take more patients, take more assignments, take heavier assignments.”

Curtis said nurses are under increasing emotional and moral distress over patient care and their own well-being. She said that under current conditions, nurses feel at risk of making medical mistakes and losing their jobs and nursing licenses.

In an interview, Curtis said that the 6,200 nurses their union represents are required to put in overtime. “They’re making nurses choose between their family and the patients. And we feel that the university has a duty and responsibility to create an environment [where] we’re able to provide the best care possible, and not risk the health and safety of ourselves or our patients,” she said.

In an emailed statement, University of Michigan Health said it plans "to vigorously defend itself in the lawsuit."

U of M Health "makes staffing determinations with patient safety at the forefront of its decisions, and this has produced outstanding safety results," the statement continued. "The health system continuously receives recognition as Michigan’s safest hospital with recent recognitions by top agencies."

The university said it continues to bargain with the union in good faith, offering pay increases, a salary step program that increases pay over time, and “safely eliminating mandatory overtime.”

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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