Nurses file federal lawsuit against University of Michigan, threaten strike

Contract of U of M nurses expired in June

By Larry Spruill - Reporter

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The contract for the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council expired in June, and the two sides are struggling to come to terms on a new deal.

Now, the nurses have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the university is violating their free speech rights.

The 46-page lawsuit was filed in Detroit. It alleges unfair treatment toward nurses and claims the University of Michigan is violating labor laws.

Thousands of nurses are threatening to go on strike.

Katie Oppenheim, of the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council, said it’s all about meeting somewhere in the middle.

Oppenheim said the University of Michigan isn't keeping up its end of the bargain, and now almost 6,000 nurses within the University of Michigan Health System are willing to take matters into their own hands.

“So we've been in negotiations with the university since Jan. 22, and our work stoppage would be based on unfair labor practices, basically saying the university is not bargaining in good faith,” Oppenheim said.

Members of the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council are seeking an immediate injunction to uphold their First Amendment rights to free expression on the job.

“There’s a multitude of other things, like changing hours of work for some workers, which, in effect, make them work for free five days a year,” Oppenheim said.

The University of Michigan Medicine Department sent Local 4 the following statement:

"Michigan Medicine is confident all of its efforts in these negotiations have been consistent with the First Amendment and putting our patients first.

"We will vigorously defend the university from this lawsuit that further hinders our ability to reach a contract agreement.

"We remain opposed to the union's efforts to bring labor negotiations into patient care areas. We stand ready to continue contract talks.

"Michigan Medicine has offered the nurses a compensation package that includes competitive across-the-board increases of at least 3 percent and a competitive paid maternal/parental leave program that includes six weeks of paid leave for physiological recovery from birth of a child and six weeks of paid parental leave to employees after a birth, adoption or foster care and guardianship.

"UMPNC cites safe staffing as one of its most important bargaining issues. In August, Michigan Medicine was ranked No. 5 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. These Honor Roll rankings are achieved in part by our excellent nurse to patient ratios. Our ratios are in the top 2 percent of all hospitals in the country. We accomplished this without any contractual requirement to do so because excellent nurse staffing supports excellent patient outcomes. We remain committed to providing this level of staffing.

"Nurses are critical to the delivery of safe patient care. The most critically ill patients in the state come to Michigan Medicine. If any of our nurses go out on strike, their absences may put patient safety at serious risk.

"Strikes are illegal for public employees in the state of Michigan. If an employee goes on strike, the employee is not paid for the time out on strike."

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