Michigan Nurses Association files unfair labor practice complaint against Sparrow Hospital

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  • Anna gustafson
  • Sparrow Hospital employees call for fairer pay and better benefits during “information strike.”

The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Sparrow Hospital with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week, alleging that the Lansing-based healthcare facility had repeatedly violated the federal labor laws and used anti-union tactics as the hospital and its caregivers union negotiate a new contract.

According to the MP, Sparrow executives “have taken an aggressively anti-union approach” as they enter into contract negotiations with the union of the Professional Council of Sparrow Hospital Employees (PECSH). PECSH members – which include nurses, pharmacists, social workers and therapists, among others – have been working without a contract since October 30. Caregivers recently voted to authorize a strike if union leadership deemed it necessary. PECSH is a local subset of the MNA.

“We are completely fed up with the anti-union attitude of the Sparrow leadership,” Jessica Lannon, Sparrow’s nurse and PECSH grievance chair, said in a press release. “They keep trying to silence the voices of caregivers. The administration of Sparrow has crossed the line too often and must be held accountable. ”

According to the charge filed by the MP on Wednesday, Sparrow Hospital “illegally questioned staff about union activities and unlawfully attempted to prevent staff from wearing red to show support for their union” and threatened to suppress health care and other benefits if workers went on strike. The prosecution also alleges that hospital officials:

  • Illegally abandoned the process for staffing issues in the carers union contract before it expired
  • Illegally announced that they plan to restrict provider networks in 2022 for employee health insurance plans
  • Illegal creation of nurse position at Sparrow outside the union
  • Illegally refused to share financial information with the union
  • Employees’ right to strike protected by law, including making bargaining proposals containing a written threat to automatically withdraw proposals on wages, health care and other economic conditions upon strike notice

Sparrow spokesman John Foren wrote in an email that the hospital “is reviewing the complaint and will respond to it if appropriate” and noted that Sparrow is disputing “all of the allegations in the complaint.”

The NLRB has said on its website that it typically takes between seven and 14 weeks to investigate a charge, although it may take longer. Once this process is complete, a settlement can be reached or the NLRB can file a complaint against Sparrow. A complaint leads to a hearing before an administrative judge of the NLRB, who can order various appeals. The MP said his ultimate goal was to get Sparrow to stop anti-union tactics with which the hospital is accused.

The MP noted in his press release that shortly before contract negotiations began, Sparrow hired a law firm, Barnes and Thornburg, which specializes in “union avoidance,” according to its website.

On November 22, CHEP announced that union health professionals overwhelmingly supported the authorization of a potential strike.

Ninety-six percent of PESCH members who took part in the vote approved the authorization of a strike. About 88% of the 2,200 CHEP members voted.

The vote does not mean that a strike will definitely take place, but it does allow union leaders to call one if contract negotiations fail. The MP clarified that 10 days’ notice would be given before a strike date was set.

Union leaders have said Sparrow staff need fairer pay and benefits in their new contract, as well as safer working conditions as they try to both retain and attract employees as Michigan once again battles the nation’s highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Following the strike authorization vote, Sparrow’s administration came up with a new contract proposal with improved wages but failed to guarantee caregivers access to personal protective equipment and reduced the number of days disease that caregivers can take, union leaders say.

“[Sparrow executives] should spend less time illegally trying to silence us and more time trying to work with us, ”said Jen Ackley, emergency room nurse and member of Sparrow’s elected caregivers negotiating team, in a statement. Press release. “Our number one goal as unionized caregivers is to ensure the safety of our patients.”

The new contract proposed by Sparrow was handed over to the union through a federal mediator who has been working with the hospital and CHEP for the past few weeks.

The proposal would “dramatically increase compensation” for caregivers without “changing the current design of health care plans or the sharing of caregiver premiums,” Sparrow said in a statement prepared last week.

Under the proposed contract, a nurse now earning $ 37 an hour would see her base salary increase by $ 7.04 an hour, a 19% increase, by the end of the three-year contract. A clinical laboratory scientist who currently earns $ 34.04 an hour would see his base salary increase by $ 5.33 an hour, a 15.6% increase, by the end of the three-year contract.

The proposal “shows the value we place on our caregivers, who have distinguished themselves nationally with grace and compassion during the worst health crisis of our lives,” said Sparrow.

The hospital said it “doesn’t want a strike, which would be bad for everyone.”

Contract negotiations continue this week.

Originally posted Nov 29, 2021 on Michigan Advance. It is shared here with permission.

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Andrew B. Reiter