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Nurses and other health care professionals at McLaren Macomb Hospital expressed frustration Tuesday with what they say is their employer's failure to respond to their health and safety concerns as they treat coronavirus patients.

Officers with OPEIU Local 40, which represents about 1,000 workers at the Mount Clemens hospital and Ascension Providence Rochester, said requests for hazard pay, sick leave and personal protection equipment from McLaren have gone unanswered for weeks. The union said on April 14, McLaren issued “very limited” COVID-19 employee benefits that are being denied to unionized nurses and frontline workers.

“The April 14th email from the hospital specifically denying the benefits to RNs and other unionized health care professionals is a slap in the face of all of us who are putting our own health and safety at risk to serve others in this crisis,” said Jeff Morawski, a McLaren Macomb nurse who is president of the local.

Morawski did not rule out a potential “job action” by union members at Macomb and other McLaren hospitals. He did not elaborate but job actions traditionally can include sit-downs, sickouts, informational pickets and even walkouts.

Among McLaren Health Care policies criticized by the union is the start of layoffs while the company’s executives have only taken 2% pay cuts.

At least 16 workers who couldn’t be transferred to other duties were furloughed by the hospital, Morawski said.

“The hospital said the furloughs were necessary because they had stopped elective surgeries and procedures,” he said. “They are supposedly starting surgeries up again on Monday so we hope these people will be called back to work.”

He said McLaren had instituted furloughs at other hospitals as well.

“The last thing McLaren should be doing in the midst of a pandemic is laying off staff,” said Dina Carlisle, a McLaren Macomb nurse and union vice president. “We have nurses who getting sick. We are being forced to work with the same N-95 mask for seven days at a time. We have nurses who are being asked to care for four COVID-19 patients at a time. If McLaren really views us as heroes, they need to show it with actions to support us, not empty words.”

McLaren has continued a legal battle to deny the 330 service workers represented by Local 40 union representation, even as they rely on them to respond to COVID-19, union members said.  

“Essential workers at Amazon and Home Depot are receiving additional hazard pay for putting their well-being in danger. Does McLaren not see frontline healthcare workers as essential?” said Dawn Hengy, a perioperative technician. “At a time like this, McLaren should be focused on fighting the pandemic, not its own employees.”

During the press conference, the hospital emailed out a response to what it described as “false information” put out by the union. The response, attributed to Tom Brisse, McLaren Macomb president and CEO, said the hospital:

--Invested in disposable gowns and a UV light system to decontaminate masks.

--is engaged in the ongoing purchase of N-95 masks.

--Offered benefits to all staff and union members since April 14, including 80 hours of personal time off, which the hospital says the union rejected.

--“Continues to lobby the federal government to include hazard pay for all health care workers.”

Morawski's response? “Well, if that’s true, why don’t they just provide it themselves.” 

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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