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Muskegon hospital workers approve picket plan, as contract talks continue

courtesy Mercy Health Muskegon

The staff at Mercy Health Muskegon hospital have voted to start picketing outside if they can’t get a new labor contract.

Staff say they’ve gone years without a raise. They’ve been trying to negotiate a new labor contract since last year, and set a deadline for those negotiations last Monday.

“We have nurses leaving every week,” says Joy Bamford, a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital. “You see people on computers, and on phones looking at other job postings every shift. We need a contract.”

Bamford says she knows she could make more money working at another hospital, but she stays at Mercy Health Muskegon because of her connection to the community.

SEIU Healthcare Michigan represents about 1,800 workers at the hospital. The union says the vote to approve a picket was nearly unanimous.

In the meantime, both sides continue to negotiate. In a statement, Mercy Health Muskegon said coming to terms on a contract and taking care of workers is a priority.

“We are encouraged to see the negotiating teams increase the pace with multiple meetings last week,” the hospital’s statement read. “We have seven additional bargaining dates scheduled and we remain hopeful more progress will be made this week and next.”

The hospital says it’s reached agreements with the union in the past, and there’s “no reason” why it can’t this time. But if that agreement doesn’t come, workers are prepared to escalate and picket outside the hospital. Bamford says staff will only picket during their off hours, so patient care isn’t disrupted.

“You know we may not have a lot of people standing out there, but our community, I feel, wants the same thing we do. And so if they can show support, honk a horn, anything. Put signs in their yards - we just want their support.”

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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