Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin stood alongside UW Health nurses as they spoke out publicly on Friday to encourage a wage cap increase for Veteran nurses.
Nurses gathered on the one-year anniversary of their agreement with UW Health that averted a strike and restored their union voice. The event took place across the street from UW Health University Hospital at the First Unitarian Society to share continuous working concerns they have such as compensation and staffing.
The nurses along with Service Employees International Union invited Baldwin, who was “honored” to stand alongside them in their fight.
“To our nurses: I see you, I hear you and I stand with you. I urge UW Health to do the same,” Baldwin said.
Wisconsin has juggled a nursing shortage for some time, often leaving nurses to work extra hours to fill in staffing gaps. At UW Health, a wage cap on veteran nurses is prompting experienced nurses to leave the organization, creating safety and staff concerns.
A wage cap prevents veteran nurses from earning wages that keep up with the cost of living, leaving nurses feeling undervalued and uncared for, according to emergency department nurse Mariah Clark.
“While none of us are in it for the money, it’s frustrating to feel like you’re not valued for your experience and your knowledge,” she said.
Nurse Matt Delaney said there have been shifts in the intensive care unit at UW Health where few experienced nurses are working. Additionally, he said some shifts have at least a dozen contracted traveling nurses who are from out of state and have limited experience.
There are also units in which nurses a year out of nursing school are forced to be responsible for a full department as charge nurses, according to Delaney.
Jay Klamer, a UW Health nurse who works at a transplant unit, shared concerns about a “brain drain” among hospital staff at UW Health. He fears the hospital will lose too many experienced nurses, leaving very few people to make up for it.
Baldwin echoed their concerns, explaining that “we all pay the price” when the healthcare system lacks staffed units and fair compensation.
Nurses recently learned through UW Health’s latest unaudited financial report that the organization had $273 million in profits as well as $4.4 billion in operating revenue, according to Service Employees International Union.
“UW Health is acting in the interest of executives and profits, not in the interests of patients and their community,” Delaney said.
Colin Gillis, a nurse who has worked at UW Health for six years, emphasized that compensation is their number one priority.
“We want to see caps of experienced nurses lifted up so that nurses who stay in the organization and gain experience see that experience rewarded with their wage,” he said.
The nurses hope to solve their concerns with UW Health through conversation and do not want the situation to escalate.
“Listen to us, hear what we’re saying, and use it to make decisions rather than dictate to us what we deserve,” Klamer said.