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McLaren Macomb nurses give 10-day notice of strike over work conditions

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — The union that represents nurses at McLaren Macomb Hospital has given notice that it will strike on July 28 if the hospital doesn't agree to improve nurses' working conditions.

Jeffrey Morawski, a nurse at the 228-bed hospital and president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 40, said most of the problems are caused by a shortage of nurses and the ancillary workers like nursing assistants who support them. 

"We're having conversations around trying to hold the hospital accountable for safe staffing," Morawski said Monday afternoon, just as he was headed into a bargaining session with hospital administration.

Morawski said the hospital is supposed to have 600 nurses, but is currently about 70 short of that number.

In a Monday statement to The Detroit News, the hospital said: "We are disappointed to learn that OPEIU Local 40 issued a 10-day strike notice. Threatening a strike and using other pressure tactics have been part of the union’s playbook during previous negotiations. However, the fact that OPEIU Local 40 also has notified McLaren of its intent to strike makes the likelihood of a strike more possible."

McLaren Macomb Hospital in Mount Clemens.

In late June, a majority of members in the nurses union voted in favor of striking over patient care issues. The union represents about 530 nurses whose contract with the Mount Clemens hospital is set to expire July 27.

"McLaren would prefer to settle contract negotiations with OPEIU Local 40 without a work stoppage," McLaren said in its statement.

"We believe there still is a path for both parties to reach a fair, competitive contract for nurses while addressing the changes happening in healthcare and for our organization if the union would play by the rules. OPEIU has used unfair labor practices to stall negotiations and bargaining in bad faith to push our nurses to a strike. We believe that any strike action on the union’s part would be illegal based on their unfair labor practice charges and subject the union to sanctions and damages caused to the hospital."

McLaren remains focused on the health and welfare of its patients, employees, physicians, staff and volunteers, according to the statement.  If there is a strike, the hospital will remain open and fully operational. 

"We have been preparing for the unfortunate possibility of the union taking nurses away from patients’ bedsides to walk a picket line," the statement said.

"We are implementing a comprehensive strike plan to ensure minimal, if any, disruption for those receiving care or visiting our hospital during OPEIU’s strike. We have contracted with a national firm to provide licensed, experienced temporary replacement nurses who will care for patients during the strike." 

Morawski contends the hospital hasn't hired enough ancillary staff, such as patient care assistants or patient sitters. That means nurses not only are caring for more patients, they are also providing more care to the patients they have.

"They're telling us there's a national shortage," Morawski said. "But what are they doing to retain nurses?

"I've been a nurse for over 25 years, and this is the worst time to be a nurse I've ever seen in my career," he added. "We don't want to (strike), but we feel this is our only recourse." 

The hospital said Monday that it remains committed to bargaining in good faith with the union to reach a tentative agreement on new labor contracts, according to its statement.

"We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement before the expiration of the contract — and that is our focus," it reads. "OPEIU has the option to withdraw its 10-day notice before its strike begins."

kbouffard@detroitnews.com