Nurses at UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital notified hospital administrators of their plan to go on strike starting March 24 in an effort for a new contract agreement.
UnityPoint Health-Meriter called the decision to strike “deeply disappointing,” and said the hospital already has plans to bring in qualified nursing staff if the strike occurs.
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the nurses’ union, said in a release that the potential strike is in response to proposals for policies that would better support nurses to heal and recover after working the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year.
The proposal calls for the hospital to grant nurses a “meaningful voice” in decision making, more fair compensation and greater protections in the face of the current pandemic and any future public health crises.
“Nurses always strive to be the best advocates for our patients. To do that, we have to stand up for ourselves too,” registered nurse Louise Nordstrom said in the release. “We cared for the sickest of the sick, always putting our patients first. We’re proud of the way that nurses and healthcare workers showed up for our community.”
In Meriter’s response to the group’s announcement, the hospital said that further work needed to be done for nurses, but the hospital said they have received comments from nurses and team members that have felt safe and supported.
Meriter also laid out the steps they’ve taken to support their nurses in the past year, including the purchase of additional PPE and insistence on testing admitted patients, as well as providing incentive pay and compassion grants to nurses.
“We are hopeful SEIU will return to the bargaining table, and we can continue negotiations toward a new contract,” Meriter said in the release.
Numerous Democratic politicians and elected officials have come out in support of the strike since it was announced Saturday.
Two state Senators, Sen. Melissa Agard and Sen. Kelda Roys, have released statements in support of the nurses, calling for the hospital to pay extra overtime put in by nurses during the pandemic.
“The fact is, you can’t talk about nurses as ‘health care heroes’ and then treat them as less than that,” Agard said in a release. “The commitment, passion and determination of Wisconsin’s nurses has never been more clear.”
Two more state Representatives, Rep. Francesca Hong and Rep. Lisa Subeck, also released statements supporting the strike for a new contract.
“Emotional labor and burnout are real,” Hong said in a release. “Nurses have gone above and beyond to do their jobs. UnityPoint Health-Meriter needs to do theirs. Honor, value and pay your nurses.”
Without a resolution to these nurses’ contract stipulations, the hospital will risk disruption of patient care, as SEIU represents over 800 registered nurses at Meriter and says it has nearly 99 percent backing on the decision to strike.