Nurses picketing outside Sparrow say new contract equates to pay cut

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LANSING – Hundreds of nurses, pharmacists and supporters flooded a stretch of Michigan Avenue between Sparrow Hospital and its adjoining administration building. They looped as the cars passed, honking their horns in support, and chanting, “Sparrow, Sparrow, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”

A union representing caregivers in Sparrow, a category of workers that includes nurses and pharmacists, held an information picket on Wednesday denouncing the hospital’s proposed contract as essentially tantamount to a pay cut as the number of patients increases.

The marchers carried a series of signs, some alluding to non-nursing staff like dietitians and laboratory scientists also included in the negotiations. Other signs were funny. “Jurassic Park was understaffed,” read one sign. “Look what happened to them.”

The picket was organized by the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital-Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA), which represents 2,200 Sparrow workers. The picketers were joined by speakers including State Representative Sarah Anthony, State Senator Curtis Hertel and an AFL-CIO representative delivering remarks from United States Representative Elissa Slotkin.

The picketing came days before Friday’s deadline for Sparrow and caregivers to ratify a current contract offer, the product of months of negotiations that began over the summer.

The union has yet to officially reject the contract, but PECSH president and nurse Sparrow Katie Pontifax said on Wednesday they almost certainly would.

“They made ratification impossible by Friday,” Pontifax told the crowd.

If the union rejects the contract, a new round of negotiations would begin on Tuesday, November 9.

Sparrow Health System is one of many hospitals facing similar challenges, said President Alan Vierling. While CHEP health care premiums could increase by 12%, Sparrow is experiencing the same mandatory increases in all of their health care plans.

“It’s unfortunate that this small percentage is worn by nurses,” Vierling said in an interview earlier this week. “We realize it’s money, and we appreciate it, but the employer has a much heavier burden.”

A statement from Sparrow on the negotiations also referred to an operating loss of $ 31 million in 2020 and an expected operating loss for this year, as well as a reduction in payments due to no-fault automotive reform. of Michigan, which put the hospital in financial stalemate.

“This hospital has lost over a million dollars in revenue a month” on no-fault reform alone, Vierling said. “It’s a million dollars that I don’t have the ability to pass on to the people who work at the hospital.”

Sparrow Healthcare staff and other supporters demonstrate outside Sparrow Hospital in Lansing on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

The labor dispute unfolds amid tensions in Sparrow and other hospitals across the country. Patients who avoided hospitals during the pandemic are now seeking care just as the staff shortage is at its worst, shrinking the on-call list.

This week, the Detroit Free Press, Bridge Magazine and Michigan Radio detailed overcrowding at Sparrow Hospital, including times when the entire emergency department was full, resulting in long wait times and higher patient-to-staff ratios. students.

The union’s main concerns over the proposed contract are unsatisfactory wage increases, rising healthcare costs and the retention and recruitment of new healthcare workers, Pontifax said.

Sparrow’s initial offer of a 1% pay raise is now 4% in the current proposal. It also includes multiple provisions for bonuses in exchange for overtime work, including a lump sum of $ 10,000 for an extra 12-hour shift each week for eight weeks as well as additional pay for shifts. bonus work.

Staff at Lansing Sparrow Hospital watch fellow healthcare workers and other supporters protest outside Lansing Sparrow Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, November 3, 2021.

PECSH opposes wage increases, stressing cost of living adjustment exceeding what Sparrow offers. Additionally, Pontifex said the work-based bonus program has not compensated for gratitude to bedside healthcare workers since March 2020.

“You have had me for 20 months to take care of COVID patients during the worst pandemic of our lives,” Pontifex said in an interview earlier this week. “And you want more of me before you give me anything?” Why does it have to be for something else? I have already given you so much.

The proposed health care costs would increase the premiums for PECSH workers by 12%. Pontifex equated the healthcare proposal in conjunction with the salary proposal to a pay cut for caregivers.

Anna Klein, a labor and delivery nurse from Sparrow, meets with other Sparrow Healthcare staff and other supporters outside Sparrow Hospital in Lansing Wednesday afternoon, Wednesday 3 November 2021.

Nurses say these sticking points – especially calls for better recruitment and retention – are exacerbated by current conditions. Sparrow lacks 90 nurses for a full staff, according to hospital administrators. The hospital fills empty shifts with a group of floating nurses who are not tied to any place.

While Sparrow has proposed a new floating pool to ease the burden on patients, nurses say there is no real staffing shortage at Sparrow, just a shortage of people willing to work under current hospital conditions.

Sparrow administrators disagree, pointing to similar shortages nationwide. Rising travel agency jobs are pushing many nurses out of hospitals as healthcare providers increasingly rely on contractors to fill vacancies exacerbated by the pandemic.

Pontifex itself was offered $ 87,000 for 13 weeks of work by one of these agencies – all expenses paid in Hawaii. But for her, the agency’s problem only underscores the importance of a fair contract to keep caregivers in Sparrow.

"We must stand together to make it better," Michelle Rolston, right, a labor and delivery nurse in Sparrow says as she walks with other Sparrow Healthcare staff and other supporters outside Sparrow Hospital in Lansing on Wednesday afternoon November 3, 2021.

“Those of us who stay are out of loyalty,” Pontifex said in an interview. “We’re just asking to be recognized for it. We’ve been here, we’ve kept showing up and we haven’t left yet.”

Contact reporter Annabel Aguiar at aaguiar@lsjnews.com or (517) 449-8248. Follow her on Twitter @annabelaguiar.


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