The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) and the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council (UMPNC), its affiliate, announced a tentative agreement with Michigan Medicine, the health care system operated by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, on Thursday.
In a series of tweets, MNA-UMPNC hailed the initial agreement as a “big win” and a contract that “supports and respects nurses” but said nothing of what was in it. In a press release on the same day, MNA claimed that the initial contract included “the termination of mandatory overtime,” an “improved mechanism for enforcing contractual workload ratios” and “competitive pay.”
The “highlights” of the union’s agreement, which was later shared with the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter, make it clear that it is nothing of the sort. Just like the recent agreement brokered by the Biden administration reached by rail unions to prevent a national rail strike, the MNA-UMPNC deal with Michigan Medicine is an attempt to keep nurses in business and sabotage their fight.
The so-called “big win” actually includes:
The pay component of the agreement states that nurses will receive pay increases of 7.5 percent in 2022, 6 percent in 2023, 5 percent in 2024 and 4 percent in 2025. The current annual rate of inflation is 8.26 %, this is actually a wage cut.
The union is also promoting Michigan Medicine’s offer of a $5,000 bonus “upon certification” and another $2,000 for nurses “upon contract expiration.” However, these amounts do not come close to recovering income lost due to higher inflation and no cost-of-living increases in previous agreements that MNA-UMPNC has signed with Michigan Medicine.
The “highlights” say nothing about how the hospital has resolved the staff shortage. The tentative agreement includes a zero-commitment from Michigan Medicine to hire the required number of nurses to staff the hospital and solve the nurses’ number one problem. The union’s “highlights” in point 4 say the interim agreement includes “the first ever contractually enforceable workload ratios” but doesn’t explain what that means.
Given that Michigan Medicine maintained throughout the negotiations that the mandatory employment requirement was an issue of illegal bargaining and that the union promptly dropped specific nurse-to-patient ratio demands, the claim that the ratios would be “contractually enforceable” is questionable to say the least.
- In point 5, “highlights” indicate that mandatory overtime will expire but then qualifies this with a long list of exceptions including, “situations that result from routine staffing needs from typical staffing patterns, and expected levels of absenteeism or time off.” In other words, obligatory overtime has been ‘eliminated’ except in cases where management may require it at all.
- Similarly, in point 9 on the critical issue of call hours, MNA-UMPNC agreed to what it calls a “motivated short-term vacancy appeal,” which accepts Michigan Medicine’s refusal to adequately staff the hospital. In this system, nurses will be on call within four hours of time based on the “vacancy rates” in each unit. While MNA-UMPNC claims this is a “temporary” system, without any employment requirements in the agreement, Michigan Medicine will push to make it permanent.
The WSWS healthcare worker newsletter calls on Michigan Medicine nurses to reject the sale agreement announced by MNA-UMPNC as a betrayal of this months-long battle. Everything that has happened over the past six months confirms our warnings that the union is working with the hospital administration to prevent the strike and impose a new, corrupt contract.
Nurses and other hospital staff should join the Michigan Medicine Classification and File Committee (MMRFC) to organize the growing opposition against union weakness and betrayal and to unite with other sections of the working class such as auto workers, teachers, and railroad workers who are engaged in similar struggles.
Like health care workers in California, Minnesota and New York, Michigan Medicine nurses have demonstrated their determination to fight to end staffing shortages and provide safe, high-quality care to patients.
The nurses also repeatedly opposed MNA-UMPNC’s efforts to turn their struggle into futile protests by Democratic Party officials on the University of Michigan Board of Governors. This was most evident in the landslide vote for the strike at the beginning of September.
The resolution passed at a meeting of 500 railroad workers on September 14 signals the way forward for Michigan Medicine nurses in organizing opposition to the TSA between MNA-UMPNC and the hospital.
In addressing the principle agreement preventing a national rail strike, rail drivers insisted that they would not accept a contract that did not meet their basic demands for higher wages and acceptable working conditions and had not been ratified by members. They also said, “Any attempt to force contracts that we do not accept and are not voted on, or to keep us operating without a contract, would be a violation of the clear instructions issued by Rank and File.” The Railway Workers Classification and File Committee is now regulating the railways to enforce the terms of this decision.
The MMRFC was formed to unite all hospital staff and break isolation and subordination in their struggle against unfair labor practices of union and Democratic Party officials. I made the following demands:
- Reject the Initial Sale Agreement and initiate an immediate strike against Michigan Medicine.
- Safe nurse-to-patient ratios are mandatory and non-negotiable. Michigan Medicine must employ enough nurses to ensure a safe work environment for staff and patients.
- End mandatory overtime and extended call hours that ruined the work-life balance for nurses. All overtime must be voluntary and hours worked on demand.
- A 30 percent wage increase to break inflation to offset years of lower real wages, as well as cost-of-living lifts to keep up with inflation.
- Upgrades to personal protective equipment against COVID-19 and monkeypox. We need adequate protective equipment, including proper masks of N95 or better, to protect our patients and ourselves.
- Full strike payment provided by MNA-UMPNC and Michigan AFL-CIO.
- Response to breaking the strike with a general strike of Michigan workers!