TWO LENGTHY, UNSCHEDULED negotiation sessions over the weekend between the nurses union and UP Health System-Marquette may have opened up lines of communication, but they may be “too little too late,” to avoid a strike, according to a union spokesman.
The two sessions each lasted about seven hours, according to union president Scott Balko. Two more are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. The two day strike is scheduled to start Thursday morning.
“One thing that happened over the weekend,” Balko explains, “is that for the first time, we actually got to speak to the hospital management team. Previously we had just been talking to their lawyer, and we were getting nowhere.”
Any progress? Any concessions?
“Maybe a little,” Balko says, “but we’d have to be pretty close to an actual agreement before we’d call off the strike. At this point, that doesn’t seem likely.”
The primary issue for the nurses remains staffing levels. They contend the hospital has not hired enough nurses, and as a consequence, the staff nurses are being forced to regularly work overtime, sometimes as much as 16 hours a shift.
That’s exhausting for them, they say, and it’s detrimental to their family life. Even more important, they say, it’s potentially unsafe for hospital patients.
Hospital management contends that they’re working on the staffing shortage.
The hospital is also preparing for emergency staffing during the planned walkout–offering visiting nurses up to $70 an hour.
How many of the hospital’s 400 nurses will cross the picket line on Thursday and Friday? Balko concedes that some, a small number, likely will, but that the vast majority will be out on the picket line. For nurses who will face a struggle during the two days without pay, Balko says there are “hardship funds” available.
A few days ago, hospital CEO Brian Sinotte sent a letter to each of the nurses reminding them that they didn’t have to participate in the walkout.
Of course, the hope on both sides is that in these final two negotiation sessions, they’ll reach a breakthrough at the eleventh hour.
Seems more like “hope” than reality at this point.
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