Sparrow Hospital union members vote almost unanimously to authorize a strike

Union president: ‘Sparrow executives don’t seem to take us seriously.’

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MONDAY, Nov. 22 — An overwhelming majority of nurses and other healthcare professionals at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing are prepared to strike “at any time” — particularly if a collective bargaining stalemate between union officials and administrators continues much longer.

The Professional Employee Council of Sparrow — which represents about 2,200 employees — announced today that 96% of the staff who participated in a recent unionwide vote over the last week have authorized its negotiating team to call a strike “if necessary,” according to a release.

The vote does not mean there will necessarily be a strike, although one can be called “at any time,” officials said. A 10-day notice would also be provided to administrators and hospital staff.

“We have been clear from the start about what nurses and healthcare professionals need, but Sparrow executives don’t seem to take us seriously,” said union president Katie Pontifex. “After almost two years of pouring our hearts and souls into working during this pandemic, we can’t stand by and watch as the staffing crisis gets worse and compromises care for more patients.”

The 2,200 caregivers represented by the Professional Employee Council have been working without a union contract since Sunday, Oct. 31. Contract proposals from Sparrow’s executive team, so far, have reportedly only fallen short on wage increases and health benefit costs.

Union officials, in a press release today, also said that Sparrow’s counter-proposals have included “punishments” for nurses who call in sick, noting they also “fail to provide a guarantee of an N-95 mask or better for those working with known or suspected COVID-19 patients.”

“Our members are committed to fighting for what’s right for patients and our community,” remarked Kevin Glaza, a pharmacist and the union’s vice president. “We all understand that authorizing a strike is a serious matter, and it’s the last thing we want. The status quo continuing to deteriorate for the next three years is the worst-case scenario for our community. We are willing to sacrifice our paychecks and walk the picket line in order to protect our patients.”

Last month, Pontifex said she had never seen morale so low among nurses at Sparrow Hospital. The union also organized a 700-person “informational picket”  this month. The union's stated goal: a “fair" contract that provides more consistent wage increases for employees, adequate and affordable healthcare coverage — which can also help bolster a skeleton staff.

Reports in the Detroit Free Press noted that every room in Sparrow’s emergency department was full in October, leaving some patients lining the hallways to await treatment. Some sick patients have also reportedly waited hours, even days, for a bed to open inside the hospital.

Check back for continued coverage as the contract negotiations continue this month.

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