UW Health nurses, management, Gov. Tony Evers and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin (SEIU) reached a historic agreement at the Capitol on Monday, avoiding a three-day labor strike that would have taken place this week at the UW Health hospital.
“We came to a solution that all parties could agree on. I could not be prouder to have been part of the mediation process,” Evers said at the press conference.
Nurses first announced their vote to potentially strike in August, citing problems with understaffing, burnout and demand for better patient care — the ideal outcome was for UW Health to work with nurses to sort out problems. The agreement aims to do just that with an established plan over time.
As shared by SEIU, part of the agreement states the parties plan to work together in addressing challenges nurses at UW Health face, while promoting quality patient care and retention of nurses at the hospital.
UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan explained how the agreement averts the proposed strike in addition to any future work stoppages. The administration will continue to work toward finding a final legal answer on whether a union can be recognized by UW Health, Kaplan added.
Although the agreement does not recognize the nurses’ union – that being the original demand of the strike – it marks hope for the future of the relationship between nurses and executives, Evers expressed.
“[The agreement] gives greater voice to ordinary nurses in the workplace, strengthens the relationship and communication between workers and management, and ultimately ensures that the strike would be averted,” Evers said.
Registered nurse Colin Gillis spoke at the conference and explained how nurses and hospital administration have already begun meeting and holding productive conversations surrounding the issues at hand.
“Our union and our executive leadership at UW Health ultimately share the same values and concerns,” Gillis said. “Together, we will make our hospitals and clinics the best they can be. I cannot wait to get started.”
In a summary of the agreement shared by SEIU, nurses now have the right to become SEIU members and UW Health will immediately begin discussing critical issues with nurses. This includes formally establishing a process that will lead to nurses gaining bargaining rights through the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC).
WERC is a government commission that oversees labor relations and aids in upholding processes established by the Wisconsin Peace Act, which gives employees the right to join a union and prohibits employers from interfering with that right.
UW Health also released a statement outlining how they will join with SEIU in a “meet and discuss” process to cover concerns while legal issues are sorted out, according to UW Health Media Specialist Emily Kumlien.
Most of the legal uncertainty surrounding the agreement rests on if an independent body, like UW Health, is covered by the Peace Act. Both SEIU and UW Health plan to jointly petition WERC to see if the hospital is covered, according to UW Health.
After news of the agreement broke, UW Health nurse Mary Jorgenson expressed how this is a new chapter for registered nurses and an opportunity to resolve issues.
“It’s a historic moment, for sure,” she said. “This is a really big deal for workers across Wisconsin!”
Ultimately, some nurses like Gillis remain optimistic about the future of the agreement.
“When people join together to make things better, everyone wins,” Gillis concluded.