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Nurses seek union recognition at UW Hospitals and Clinics

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- UW Health released an additional statement Thursday afternoon, but did not specifically say if it will recognize the nurses' union.

"State statute eliminated collective bargaining at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority following the expiration of pre-existing collective bargaining agreements. 

In the ensuing years, UWHCA has successfully implemented many processes to obtain direct employee feedback, such as forums, the Employee Advisory Council and employee surveys.

These avenues have provided valuable feedback that has helped shape the decisions and direction of the organization, enabling us to provide remarkable healthcare to our patients.

UWHCA will continue to support our robust existing system of employee and nurse engagement, through which UW Health has earned the designation of Magnet nursing status."

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Nurses at UW Hospital and Clinics today announced they had gained enough votes from members to form a union.

If the union is recognized by the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority Board, it would represent roughly 2,000 nurses.

"Without a union, we're not able to have a seat at the table to make key policy decisions that affect our ability to give safe and effective patient care," said Laura Kasten, a nurse who has been working at UW Health for five years. "Without a union, we'll continue to see a downtrend in nurses' ability to care for patients, and we're all just here to protect our ability to do that."

The previous contract with health care workers at UW Hospital and Clinics ended in 2014 after union restrictions were implemented with the passage of Act 10 in 2011.

Act 10 requires that unions gain a vote by a majority of their members in order to remain certified.

“Our movement is essentially an uprising by UW nurses facing unacceptable changes to staffing levels and nurse/patient ratios,” Chuck Linsenmeyer, a nurse with almost 29 years of experience who works in the Cardiac cath lab at the UW hospital said at a Thursday news conference. “There is a widespread sense among nurses in our hospital system of being unsupported by the hospital administration to provide that kind of nursing care that our patients expect and deserve.”

A group of nurse leaders attended the Dec. 19 UWHCA Board of Directors meeting to present their demands:

1. Voluntarily recognize the union and return to productive and positive collaboration with nurses that made UWHC the kind of remarkable hospital system Wisconsin citizens deserve.

2. Meet and confer with nurses regarding staffing and scheduling concerns, with the highest priority being placed on setting safe and appropriate nurse/patient ratios for every nursing unit.

3. Restore the just-cause standard and Weingarten rights for all to re-establish an environment in which nurses are able to function as fearless patient advocates and trusted leaders of the health care delivery team.

Should the UWHCA Board of Directors recognize the nurses’ union, which is represented by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, nurses would meet and confer with the Board over staffing best practices, nurse/patient ratios, the just-cause standard (as opposed to at-will employment) and Weingarten rights (the right to a union representative, advocate or witness during a potential disciplinary conversation) for all, according to a union news release.

The latter two workplace standards were eliminated by current hospital leadership after the dissolution of the previous nurses’ union, and nurses say they are necessary for nurses to serve as patient advocates and deliver top-quality health care.

UW health responded to the announcement highlighting their efforts to recruit, train and support their nursing staff:

“Many national media reports have pointed out the challenges health systems across the country experience in ensuring they have the skilled health care professionals needed, both now and for the future.

"While the Madison area has not been hit as hard as some other areas of the country, it is still a critical concern for UW Health.

"We recognize that our nurses and staff are vital to our ability to provide the highest quality of care to our patients; and that is why we continue to develop aggressive and innovative programs to recruit, retain and train the nurses and staff that drive our remarkable care.

"We’ve expanded our nationally recognized nurse residency program. Our Pathways program not only serves as a recruitment vehicle, it also focuses on many of the most underserved areas in our community. 

"And our RN to BSN tuition reimbursement program provides opportunities for advancement and continuing education for our talented nursing staff. We continually benchmark our organization against other academic health centers throughout the country to ensure we are competitive in our employment practices.

"Because of the incredible contributions of our nurses, staff and faculty, UW Health has repeatedly been recognized as a Magnet organization by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). We look forward to building on that success moving forward.”

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