UW nurses advocated for a resolution to ensure quality patient care through a “fair and fast” union election during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, citing a lack of coordination from management.
The council unanimously voted to adopt the resolution, which was sponsored by Alders Lindsay Lemmer and Patrick Heck.
Aaron Signer, a registered nurse who served the UW for 20 years, recalled a shift in communication and decision making when management stopped recognizing the UW nurses’ union in 2014.
“When UW nurses had our union, there was a true collaboration between us and management and we were part of the real decision-making process,” Signer said to the council. “Since then the collaborative environment is completely gone.”
The loss of a union resulted in pay-cuts and the overworking of staff, according to Signer.
“They’ve cut our pay for being on call and called back into work which is a regular occurrence in the operating room,” Signer said in the council meeting.
The nurses who spoke during the common council meeting expressed that COVID-19 increased problems from management and intensified the need for an individual union.
“The pandemic has exposed and magnified problems that were already growing at UW for years and we’re now facing an incipient crisis on multiple levels,” UW nurse Delia Pertzborn said.
Staff shortages and lack of personal protective equipment increased UW nurses’ risk and fear of contracting the virus at work, according to Signer.
“Staff have been left in the dark and fear getting infected or infecting their patients and loved ones.”
Healthcare workers addressed a lack of paid time off for nurses who are infected with COVID-19 as well.
Pertzborn emphasized the emotional toll — and patient health risks — of being a nurse during the pandemic, especially amid a shortage of staff.
“Short-staffing to the point of unsafe patient conditions has become the new normal,” Pertzborn said. “If a mistake happens that leads to a bad patient outcome we bear the moral injury, the guilt and legal ramifications alone.”
Signer said that many qualified UW-Nurses left the hospital, resulting in other nurses having to work overtime.
“All of these negative changes have resulted in highly experienced nurses leaving UW, which administration has done little to address,” Signer said. “At times I’ve had to work 40 hours during the week, followed by 24 hours during the weekend.”
Kevin Gundlach of the South Central Federation of Labor echoed the nurses’ advocacy for a union and said it’s the solution for securing future nurses.
“We know our future nurses want their voices heard in an organized fashion through the power of a union,” Gundlach said in the meeting.
Gundlach called for UW-Health’s action “without delay and without intimidation.”
“It’s not only practical but it’s a moral imperative for the UW hospitals and clinics to work with our health care heroes,” Gundlach said.
Ald. Lemmer told the Cardinal she was honored to stand with UW Health nurses and grateful her colleagues unanimously passed the resolution.
“They need and deserve the right to advocate for themselves, their patients and their families,” Lemmer stated.