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Madison nurses using ‘Nurses Week’ to push for unionization, enlisting help of governor and mayor

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P 10 NURSES DAY

MADISON (WKOW) -- Thursday is National Nurses Day, which kicks off Nurses Week -- a time to say "thank you" to nurses and other health care workers for their work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some nurses in the Madison area are using the recognition to help advocate for more collective bargaining, and this weekend they'll get a boost from the governor and other local and state leaders, too.

"It's just hard to believe that we're still living through this," said Shari Signer, a nurse at UW Health for the last 17 years.

She says the first 16 years were nothing like the 17th.

"Coming into work every day was terrifying," she said.

Signer's husband is a nurse, too. Thankfully, they both dodged COVID-19 -- along with their kids.

But they were surrounded by it every day.

"I work in the float pool," Signer said. "So I worked with COVID patients. I go all over the hospital."

She says as nurses have worked long hours through the pressures of the pandemic, she's felt the support from the community.

Now, she wants more support from her employer.

"We are dedicated, respected individuals who are willing to stand up and fight for our rights," Signer said. "We're willing to fight for our patients."

Signer says Act 10 disbanded her nurses union, and she's been fighting to bring it back.

"Many years ago, nurses used to be highly celebrated," she said. "That's one of the changes that has occurred over the last few years is that nurses are now told to celebrate themselves... We had good momentum, and then the pandemic hit."

In his most recent budget, Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) announced plans to re-establish collective bargaining rights for frontline public workers -- which Signer says includes UW nurses.

The Joint Finance Committee stripped that from the budget Thursday.

Still, the governor as well as Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and other legislators will join dozens of nurses -- including Signer -- at the State Capitol Saturday to call for a union voice for all essential workers -- including at UW Hospital.

That event starts at 11 a.m.

"We need all the help we can from legislation, the community, fellow nurses to try to raise our voices to have a seat at the table to advocate for our patients and for ourselves," Signer said.

In March, nurses at UnityPoint Health - Meriter, which have formed a union, successfully negotiated a new contract.

A spokesperson for UW Health referred 27 News to an earlier statement the organization gave when Evers first introduced collective bargaining in his budget in February:

“UW Health leaders and staff nurses have been working together directly and collaboratively to meet the needs of our patients while following all state laws on collective bargaining. Our robust system of nursing shared governance is part of what makes UW Health a great place to work and a place our patients receive truly remarkable care.”

UW Health, 2/18/21

While Republicans on the JFC have now taken collective bargaining out of the budget, it's a long time until the budget gets passed -- and it still could reappear as separate legislation.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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