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Nurses' contract expected to expire without replacement

Nurses at the University of Michigan have been working without a contract since July 1.
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The union has been bargaining with health system administrators since January, but an agreeable contract still has not been reached.

The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council's contract with Michigan Medicine is expected to expire Saturday night without a new one in place.

In the absence of a new contract, the nurses will continue to operate under the general terms of the expired one until an agreement is reached. 

The union has been bargaining with Michigan Medicine administrators since January, but UMPNC chair Katie Oppenheim said Friday afternoon that there had not been enough progress in negotiations for the group to agree on a contract yet. Earlier this week, the group announced they’ll hold an informational picket on July 14 if there still is no agreement by then.

The union is focused on securing a contract that offers a commitment to maintaining staffing levels and providing nurses with enough resources to effectively do their jobs. It also wants the right to represent its members on committees that discuss working conditions and other relevant issues.

“Right now we have not gotten to that point. We have not completely exhausted all of the issues either party brought to the table.”

According to Oppenheim, Michigan Medicine told union representatives via email that if a contract wasn't reached by Saturday, they would not be bargaining at all next week due to the July 4 holiday.

Administrators requested that all nurses on the bargaining team, who had paused their patient-care duties this month to focus on negotiations, go back to their regular positions for the week. They said the earliest they would return to the bargaining table is July 9, and they would be available for only two days that week. At that point, a mediator is expected to join the discussion.

Oppenheim said she has never heard of an employer temporarily stepping away from the bargaining table.

“I can't speak for them,” she said. “All I can say is we're ready to bargain. We're ready to bargain every single day.”

Mary Masson, the director of institutional positioning for Michigan Medicine, issued the statement to Michigan Radio saying the health system is fully committed to continuing the bargaining process and reaching a fair contract for the nurses.

“Because it has been a priority of the University to reach agreement by June 30 so our nurses do not experience an interruption with step increases and general wage increases, the team has offered to bargain as late in the evening as needed and on weekends.  The union has not taken the university up on that offer.  Since the first week of June, bargaining has taken place five days a week. The fact that the nurses’ union already has organized an informational picket for July 14 calls into question the union’s intention to reach agreement by June 30.”

In response to the statement, Oppenheim said it was “disingenuous, and in fact nurses wanted to keep bargaining into the evening many days but administrators wouldn’t stay at the table, just like we are seeing now.”

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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