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McLaren Lapeer nurses unanimously vote to authorize strike

 Nurses at McLaren Lapeer Region Hospital have unanimously voted to authorize a strike.
Michigan Nurses Association
Nurses at McLaren Lapeer hold an informational picket. The nurses union has unanimously voted to authorize a strike.

Nurses at a hospital in Michigan's Thumb region have unanimously voted to authorize a strike.

Some 250 nurses work at the McLaren Lapeer Region Hospital, and they've been without a contract for almost a month, said RN and local union president Carie Babcock. She said the main issue holding up negotiations is safe staffing — mainly, trying to get the hospital to abide by the nurse-to-patient ratios in their contracts.

“We have to follow our contract,” Babcock said. “Why do they not have to follow it? Why is it pick and choose? And so that's what we're fighting for, is a mechanism in the contract to know that when we walk into work, we're going to have the staff that we need.”

Babcock said nurses in the intensive care unit, for example, are only supposed to have one or two patients. But lately it's been as many as four, especially on the night shift.

"That's a huge safety issue,” she said. “And I feel like our community is feeling that when they walk in that building right now, they know that the care is declined and that's not what we want. We hate that feeling."

The union wants to institute financial penalties when the hospital violates the agreed-upon ratios. "We don't ever want them to pay the fine. We just want staff. But we want to have a mechanism that makes them feel that they have to staff this hospital.

A spokesperson for McLaren Lapeer declined an interview, but said via email that the hospital has hired 40 new nurses in the last six months. "We have safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and high-quality patient care. McLaren does not regularly violate the staffing requirements in our collective barraging agreement with the nurses."

McLaren's spokesperson also called a potential strike "unnecessary."

“We will not let such antics detract us from our goal, especially considering that approximately one-quarter of our registered nurses at McLaren Lapeer Region were banned from voting by the union as they are non-union dues paying nurses. … To that end, we have already implemented the initial phases of our strike preparedness plan to ensure continuation of quality health care without interruption.

“Despite the significant financial challenges and volume declines that many health care systems are experiencing, we have offered to invest in our nurses to improve recruitment and retention," the statement said.

McLaren's spokesperson also disputes

"We have worked with the union prior to and during negotiations to ensure we have safe staffing, competitive wages, and great working conditions."

"Currently, the nursing contract has many added benefits, such as market competitive wages and benefits, shift differential and premiums, and on-call pay, just to name a few,” said the hospital's statement.

On Thursday, McLaren Lapeer President and CEO Tim Vargas sent an email to staff threatening to lock nurses out if they go on strike.

“If a strike occurs, the union’s actions may force the hospital to lockout striking nurses for weeks (or possibly months) as we secure the needed replacement staff for long term commitments to care for patients as it is nearly impossible to determine how long a strike will last,” Vargas’ letter said.

Bargaining continues for the next two weeks, June 5, 7, 13 and 15.

Updated: June 5, 2023 at 3:17 PM EDT
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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