McLaren Macomb nurses approve strike over ‘patient care issues’

Macomb County hospital ‘disappointed’ in vote, says it will remain open if strike occurs

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – Nurses at the McLaren Macomb general hospital have voted in favor of a strike one month before their union contract expires, officials announced Tuesday.

Hospital nurses who are members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 40 chapter have authorized a strike as of Tuesday amid contract negotiations with the hospital. Union officials say the negotiations have been bogged down due to McLaren Macomb’s “failure to resolve significant patient safety and nursing morale issues.”

“Our (registered nurses) have worked diligently and endlessly over the last year dealing with an unprecedented pandemic, with a remarkable lack of support from McLaren. A central issue in the negotiations is to provide safe and appropriate nurse-patient ratios, which is the best way to protect our community,” said Jeffrey Morawski, OPEIU Local 40 president. “With these vote totals, obviously the nurses do not favor McLaren’s wholly inadequate proposals that seemingly are designed only to protect McLaren’s bottom line.”

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The contract reportedly expires on July 27 of this year. Hospital officials say negotiations have been taking place since February.

“We have over 130 outstanding unresolved grievances over the failure to provide adequate staff for patient care and new instances occur all the time,” said chapter vice president Dina Carlisle. “In most of these cases McLaren failed to meet the staffing ratios already in the contract. In addition, there is a wholesale failure to provide the non-RN assistance that the contract requires. McLaren seems simply not to care about its existing legal obligations let alone work with us to improve services to keep the community safe.”

In addition to allegedly unfavorable conditions for nurses, the chapter says the hospital’s “numerous illegal actions against the union and its membership” drove the authorization of a strike.

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In response, McLaren Macomb says it is disappointed in the chapter’s decision to authorize a strike, as the hospital and OPEIU have made “significant progress on the terms for a new contract,” officials said Tuesday.

In a statement, the hospital said that the staffing shortage referenced by OPEIU Local 40 is a nationwide issue felt by all hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that the union is using the public health crisis as “leverage at the bargaining table.”

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The hospital also says that the union chapter is being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board for “illegal tactics” used to stall negotiations and bargain in bad faith. Still, officials say they are committed to continuing negotiations “in good faith” on the new contract.

Though a strike has been authorized at McLaren Macomb, news on when or if it will occur has not yet been shared. Officials say the hospital will remain open if a strike takes place, and that it has been preparing for that possibility.

“McLaren remains focused on the health and welfare of our patients, employees, physicians, and volunteers. Our hospital will remain open and fully operational during OPEIU’s strike, should it occur,” a statement reads Tuesday. “We have been preparing for the unfortunate possibility of the union taking nurses away from patients’ bedsides to walk a picket line. We are implementing a comprehensive strike plan to ensure minimal, if any, disruption for those receiving care or visiting our hospital during OPEIU’s strike. We have contracted with a national firm to provide licensed, experienced temporary replacement nurses who will care for patients during the strike. We are prepared and committed to continually provide high-quality care for our community.”

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.