Nurses reach tentative contract agreement with University of Michigan

By: - September 22, 2022 2:33 pm

University of Michigan Medical Center | Laina G. Stebbins

The union representing about 6,200 Michigan Medicine nurses who have been working without a contract since July announced Thursday the group has reached a tentative agreement with the University of Michigan, which would avert a potential strike, end mandatory overtime and boost wages to recruit and retain workers.

Members of the Michigan Nurses Association-University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council (MNA-UMPNC) are slated to vote on the contract at a series of meetings next week. If members ratify it, the contract will become final. The University of Michigan Board of Regents holds the contract with the MNA-UMPNC.

Thursday’s announcement comes after union members voted earlier this month to authorize their elected nurse bargaining team to call a strike over what union leaders and workers described as unfair labor practices that have left nurses exhausted, burnt out and departing their jobs altogether. Union members have been in contract negotiations with the University of Michigan since March 15, and the nurses’ contract expired on June 30. 

At a University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting on June 16, 2022, Michigan Medicine nurses said they face a “staffing crisis.” | Photo courtesy of the Michigan Nurses Association

“Through our months of solidarity and collective action, nurses have stood strong to reach an agreement that meets our members’ priorities of protecting patients and investing in nurses so we can provide the best care possible,” MNA-UMPNC President Renee Curtis said in a press release issued Thursday.

“MNA-UMPNC nurses want to thank our community for all their support and advocacy over the months,” continued Curtis, who has worked as an emergency department nurse at Michigan Medicine for about two decades. “Our elected nurse negotiating team is unanimous in believing that this agreement is a win for everyone who cares about nurses and the quality of care at the University of Michigan.”

The tentative agreement includes an end to mandatory overtime, “an improved mechanism for enforcing contractual workload ratios,” and competitive wages to recruit and retain skilled nurses, the union said. Union leaders said they will not publicly release additional details about the contract until union members have voted on the agreement.

Mary Masson, spokesperson for the University of Michigan Health, the clinical division of Michigan Medicine, said in an emailed statement Thursday that the agreement includes an end to mandatory overtime, “except for defined emergency situations,” and offers pay raises and lump sum bonuses.

In its statement, the University of Michigan called its nurses “a valued and crucial partner in the safe and high-quality care we provide.

The tremendous work put into this agreement will result in continued support of our patients and ensures that they have uninterrupted access to the state-of-the art and highest-quality health care available at University of Michigan Health,” Masson wrote.

During the negotiations, union leaders accused the University of Michigan administration of illegally failing to address chronic understaffing, among other issues. In August the MNA filed a lawsuit against the university in an effort to force the school to bargain over workload ratios.

The lawsuit was dropped Wednesday, the day the tentative agreement was reached. 

The University of Michigan said in its statement Thursday that the tentative contract deal “enables us to continue the industry-leading staffing levels that we have historically maintained, and now includes language that builds upon and more clearly defines our process for managing staffing moving forward.”

In August, University of Michigan nurses held a town hall in Ann Arbor to share their work experiences with the community. During the event, which was livestreamed, nurses painted a picture of working conditions, including a staffing shortage, that left workers deeply demoralized and fatigued.

“Between the pandemic and the ongoing short staffing of our health system, the level of moral trauma our nurses are experiencing is immense,” Curtis said at the town hall. “We see no end in sight. We are not having a nursing shortage; we have a shortage of nurses willing to work in these conditions.”

Nurses have documented what they described as unsafe working conditions to the administration. The MNA said in August that Michigan Medicine nurses have filed about 1,090 forms with management that report concerns about unsafe staffing, among other patient care issues, this year. That compares to 1,000 in all of 2021.

Prior to the tentative agreement being reached, about 4,000 UMPNC nurses signed a petition calling for an end to understaffing, no more “unsafe forced overtime” and competitive wages that can recruit and retain nurses and outpace inflation.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.