Michigan has had more than its share of labor disputes between hospitals and nurses.
A high-profile walkout among nurses in Marquette, a public dispute at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Commerce Township, and the formation of unions at two hospitals in 18 months are just part of the story.
The conflicts have several causes, and are critical in an industry that's being graded on dollars and cents but also on quality — and one where lives are at stake.
Higher pay isn't at the top of the list of what nurses want, although that wish is in their top five. What they most ask hospitals for is a safer workplace, for themselves and their patients, where nursing shifts are limited to 12 hours or less, patients can count on sufficient numbers of nurses per shift and hospitals don't regularly rely on nurses to perform housekeeping or patient transportation duties in addition to patient care.
Crain's interviewed nurses at seven hospitals, most of whom are in unions and involved in contract negotiations. Three hospital nursing executives also were interviewed.
Scott Balko, an operating room nurse at UP Health System-Marquette, said the No. 1 issue for nurses at the 300-bed hospital is mandatory overtime driven by poor working conditions because of understaffing that he said discourages nurses from applying for jobs and causes unnecessary turnover.
"We don't have the number of nurses to do the job. They are working longer shifts and putting patients in unsafe conditions," Balko said. "There are no regulations on hours for nurses like there are for truck drivers."
Stephanie DePetro, an emergency room nurse also at UP Health, the former Marquette General Hospital, said nurses want specific nurse-patient ratios for each department. "There are work standards for many professions, but there is no law for how many patients we are asked to care for," she said.
Last month, 400 nurses went on a two-day strike in Marquette to protest working conditions and lack of solutions from management over a union contract under negotiation for five months. UP Health is a for-profit hospital purchased in 2012 by Nashville-based Duke LifePoint.
Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said he believes nurses when they tell him how they are often left no choice but to work overtime when hospitals fail to properly staff shifts. He said hospitals tell him the nursing shortage prevents them from hiring more nurses, a contention nurses dispute.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 100,000 registered nurse jobs will be available annually until 2022.