‘You see nurses at the end of their shifts parking their cars and just crying’

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Sparrow Hospital workers are calling for fairer pay and better benefits by Wednesday

  • Anna Gustafson
  • Sparrow Hospital workers call for fairer pay and better benefits from Wednesday’s “information strike.”

Hundreds of nurses and other health care providers carried signs adorned with “patients over profit” and marched outside Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital on Wednesday night to call for more equitable wages and benefits needed to retain and attract workers, union representatives said. that the hospital has “softened” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now is our time to stand up and speak for what we deserve: fair pay, affordable health insurance and a safe environment to work in,” said Katie Pontifex, a Sparrow Hospital nurse and chair of the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital. (PECSH). PECSH represents about 2,200 Sparrow workers and is a local subgroup of the Michigan Nurses Association.

The union-run “information strike” on Wednesday – meaning no participants took time off work to attend – comes days after the contract for Sparrow’s nurses and other healthcare providers expired on October 30.

The hospital and nursing staff have until Friday to ratify a current contract offer, which union organizers said is unlikely to happen because it includes a 12% increase in health insurance costs for workers and a 4% wage increase that staff said does not reflect rising cost of living. The contract offer will make it increasingly difficult to retain and attract workers, union representatives said, noting that the hospital needs at least 90 more nurses to have a full staff.

“Staffing is a big problem, and it’s a recruitment and retention problem,” said Julie Mason, a clinical laboratory researcher at Sparrow Hospital’s microbiology department. “We’re understaffed. You see nurses at the end of their shifts parking their cars and just crying. It’s just not okay.

“The short staffing has not been a new issue and it has worsened under COVID,” Mason continued. “Nurses need to do more with less. Instead of taking care of their two or three patients, it is now four, five, six, seven, eight, nine patients. That’s ridiculous. They can not continue to do that. ”

In addition to the stress of working while lacking staff during the pandemic, and health professionals increasingly facing aggressive and violent patients and families, caregivers said they also lost benefits from their employer during COVID-19.

“Last year, during a pandemic, the health professionals and nurses at Sparrow lost their lifetime bonus, and this year they will increase our health insurance costs?” said Mason. “Why would you increase health insurance for health professionals in a pandemic?”

A long-term bonus allows workers who have reached the top of their pay scale the opportunity to receive bonuses instead of a pay rise; staff said such a bonus is essential to attract and retain staff.

Sparrow said in a prepared statement that it routinely meets with union organizers to finalize a contract that will include competitive salaries and benefits. The hospital noted that it faces an operating loss of $ 31 million in 2020 and that it also expects an operating loss in 2021.

“Sparrow has the highest respect for all of our caregivers, and we value them and the work they do every day to care for patients and families,” the hospital said in its statement. “Like healthcare systems across the country, we continue to navigate staffing challenges, but we remain committed to staffing conditions that are consistent with or better than peer hospitals and comply with or exceed legislation mandating nursing staffing conditions in other states.

“At the negotiating table, we have made several proposals to help improve our staffing level, and outside of the negotiations, we continue to post, approve and interview positions,” Sparrow continued. “We also recruit and retain caregivers by attending dozens of career fairs each year, recruiting at schools around the state, offering referral, enrollment and retention bonuses, and rewarding caregivers who commit to further shifts with cash bonuses up to $ 10,000. among many other initiatives. ”

However, these recruitment and retention efforts are not working, nurses said.

“In the emergency room, we work ourselves to the bone to get our work done [because of staffing shortages], but you can only maintain it for that long, ”said LJ Knight, a nurse at Sparrow’s emergency room. “We are losing experienced nurses. Either they retire early or leave the profession altogether. ”

Pontifex said the hospital “bleeds staff in all our areas.”

“It’s time we stopped it,” she said. “Sparrow’s [contract] suggestions suggest a patch when we need a muzzle. ”

Lawmakers who participated in Wednesday’s information strike said they want to see further support for Sparrow’s carers.

“To date, 2,200 of you work without a contract after working through a global pandemic, daily exposed to your own health and the health of your family at stake to serve your patients,” Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) said. “You have worked extra hours with fewer employees and are facing the politicization of the public health crisis; you have become physically, mentally and emotionally worn out. And for all that, we certainly say thank you, a thank you to all our health heroes.

“But that message, even if it is appreciated, falls a little short when 2,200 of you work without a contract,” Hertel continued. “… Healthcare professionals should be thanked, but they should be thanked by guaranteeing their safety, and the safety of their patients is a priority every single day.”

As several speakers said during Wednesday’s event, Hertel stressed that there is no shortage of nurses, but rather a shortage of well – paid positions for health professionals working in an ongoing pandemic.

“You hear all about the shortage of nurses,” Hertel said. “We do not have a shortage of skilled health professionals who are passionate about the work they do. Instead, we have workers who are not willing to continue to do more, while we get less back every single day. ”

State Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) and Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, noted that Sparrow’s information strike comes at a time when workers across the state and state are demanding better conditions, including Kellogg’s workers in Battle Creek and McDonald’s staff in Detroit. The AFL-CIO is the state labor union representing about one million active and retired members of 59 unions in Michigan,

“I’m the proud product of two [United Auto Workers] parents, and they taught me that unions matter; solidarity matters, “said Anthony.” If you are awake in 2021, you know this is a workers’ revolution right now. Every corner of the state is on fire. ”

Bieber, who read a statement of support to Sparrow employees from the U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) during Wednesday’s event, said: “it’s time for these greedy, rotten rich leaders at Sparrow” to support workers.

“Workers have been abused for years and years and years and they have torn us down and torn us down and torn us down,” Bieber said. “And sooner or later they will get tired of it. And they will say, ‘Hell, that’s enough; it’s time we took back our power and got the workers’ rights back in this country.’

A version of this story was originally published by Michigan Advance. it is republished here with permission.

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