Flint nurse union to take hospital to court

Jo Kroeker
The Detroit News

Flint — The water may be safe at Flint’s only public hospital, but many nurses, pharmacists and other employees said Tuesday they don’t feel safe because they lack a union contract.

About 150 unionized Hurley Medical Center staffers attended Tuesday informational meetings at the hospital, said Richard Mack, an attorney for the Detroit labor law firm of Miller Cohen who is representing the Registered Nurses and Registered Pharmacists Union.

Union leaders discussed the hospital’s infractions, new unfair labor practice charges, the unofficial best offer the hospital floated to replace the prior contract and hospital leaders’ refusal to meet with the union, Mack said. The unionized staff members responded by protesting outside the hospital in December, January and May, and in the past month have taken to wearing black scrubs every Monday.

“They wrote it by themselves without any input from us,” said Pamela Campbell, Registered Nurses and Registered Pharmacists Union president.

The offer proposed funding cuts for union jobs, a reduction in bereavement from one week to three days including travel days and arbitration that could allow the union to file a lawsuit against the hospital, according to the union.

Hurley has had a long history of negotiating with unions, which comprise more than 80 percent of the work force, according to an emailed statement from the hospital.

“Although the RNRPh Union leadership is new to their negotiating roles and lack the benefit of past experience in negotiations, we remain committed and confident that a fair and equitable contract will still be worked out, despite the bargaining sessions with this union taking longer than anticipated,” said Ilene Cantor, Hurley Medical Center’s chief communications and marketing officer.

The labor controversy creates a new wrinkle for Hurley, which has been more in the public spotlight in recent years for its role in the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis.

Hurley Director of Pediatric Residency Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s research prompted the state to acknowledge in September 2015 that the city’s drinking water was contaminated. The hospital also has fought with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services over whether the city’s drinking water switch or Hurley’s practices were to blame for some of the 91 Legionnaires’ disease cases in the Flint area in 2014-15.

Campbell said the union won’t vote on the proposal but will see how members feel about the changes.

For registered nurse and union representative Jeff Morse, the answer is clear: not well.

“This is a new dynamic,” Morse said. “Before, in the last few years or so, there would be that give and take. Now they’ve so far in the extreme — anywhere there was a dollar sign they went for a cut.”

Mack said the staff is being nickel and dimed without reason, since the hospital generated a $40 million surplus in the last fiscal year.

The proposed budget cuts come amid increased mandatory overtime hours for part-time nurses, such as Brian Mason, 26, who said he works 72 hours per two-week pay period.

Union Bargaining Chair Gina Forbes said the stalemate isn’t an impasse, but an attempt to take down the union.

“This is all about busting our union whether it be financially or through means of dismantling our leadership,” Forbes said.