Recognition and the Initial Collective Bargaining Agreement
In 1974 Registered Nurses employed at the University of Michigan Medical Center began their struggle to advance their professional aspirations and promote higher quality patient care through collective bargaining. On February 10, 1975, the employer recognized the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council/Michigan Nurses Association as the sole and exclusive representative of the Registered Nurses at the Medical Center. One of the major issues which drove nurses to organize was the need to improve their working conditions. Staff were exposed to an unlimited number of consecutive days worked, multiple shift changes within a week, and mandatory overtime without regard to nurses’ well-being.
Further, in the process of organizing to improve their work lives in order to deliver better patient care, nurses discovered another insult. The employer was recruiting newly hired nurses with less experience at higher wages than those nurses who had long standing loyalty and service with the University.
On April 12, 1976, the first Agreement was forged which covered the approximate 800 staff nurses, health nurses, nursing education coordinators, Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Nurse Anesthetists. The contract was a mere 83 pages, but a tremendous achievement in the lives of the Registered Nurses employed at the Medical Center. The Agreement provided for a grievance procedure and arbitration, safeguarded against unjust discipline, and established a more defined and objective compensation system by diminishing the strict merit system founded in favoritism and inequity. In addition to securing these basic protections, the members of Nurse Council with this first Agreement began their long struggle for professional autonomy.
Margo Barron was the first Chair of the Nurse Council. Her fearless and fiery leadership was fundamental in the founding of the new organization and in forging the Agreement. Margo continued at the helm of the Nurse Council until the beginning of until 1991. Along with Margo, other union member signatories of the first contract were Debrah Hartwick, Phyllis Baldwin, Carolyn Siebert, Amy Goldberg, Beverly Pavasaris, Ozella Wadley, Leslie Stevens Pratt, Vickie Neiberg, and Ann O’Conner.
Moving Toward the First Work Stoppage
With the 1978 Agreement, nurses won language that noted their primary responsibly was patient care which did not require them to function in non-nursing roles on a regular and recurring basis. In regard to staffing and scheduling, the parties agreed that nurses should ideally be scheduled to work no more than two different shifts with only one change in a scheduled work week. In regard to overtime, the parties agreed that overtime should be ideally filled by volunteers first and an attempt should be made to give nurses two days notice if overtime needed to be assigned.
In the early 1980’s members of the Nurse Council continued to demand more clinical authority. While the battle against excessive workload and mandatory overtime continued, the concept of Professional Nursing was the impetus that lead the Nurse Council to directly confront the University. Members asserted that they not be solely accountable to the employer, but have the authority to exercise their professional judgment in the obligation of their duties on behalf of the patient. The University was unwilling to relinquish control, and the parties were at an impasse. The Nurse Council voted to conduct a work stoppage and duly informed the employer. To ensure safety, the Nurse Practice Committee offered to triage patients to determine which patients could not be transferred, and the Nurse Council offered to continue care for those patients who required ongoing care at the Medical Center. The University rebuked the offer.
The strike of 1981 was one of the more defining actions in the history of the Nurse Council. The members had won recognition, negotiated two Agreements, but the possibility of withholding their labor was the most difficult decision the Nurse Council had yet to contemplate. Some of the members were scared, some were saddened, but the action was actively supported by 80% of the membership. In addition to a resolute membership walking the picket line, the Nurse Council was well prepared as Jody Berney, the Strike Coordinator, ensured that those members who sought employment at other institutions in the area could find nursing work. The Nurse Council also appreciated the support of the community, and other unions and workers at the University. For example, former patients donated money to the cause, Security Officers wore buttons of support beneath their lapels, and truck drivers did not cross the lines to deliver goods the Medical Center required to operate.
The job action continued for three weeks culminating in the Nurse Council winning the ground breaking Article entitled Professional Nursing. Nurses were now recognized to assume the responsibility for nursing care including patient education within the resources of the employer. Also, policies and procedures affecting nursing care were to be developed with the input of those nurses relevant to the situation.
With the strike and settlement, the Nurse Council transformed itself from a trade union concerned only with wages and benefits to collective bargaining agent founded in winning concrete measures to gain more professional autonomy for its members. Those negotiating for the Nurse Council were Margo Barron, Jean Dvorak, Sandra Merkel, Debrah Hartwick, Thomas Bissonette, Sandra Wilson, and Lawrence Miendorf.
The Strike of 1989
When the parties began negotiating for a new Agreement in May 1989, the Nurse Council had grown to 1,800 members and at that point had bargained seven Agreements with the University. After three months of negotiations, the employer made a final offer to the Nurse Council on July 26. The membership rejected the final offer, and gave the University proper notice of the Nurse Council’s intent to strike. After a nineteen day work stoppage, Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Melinda Morris ordered the nurses back to work and directed both the Nurse Council and the University to proceed to fact finding.
In fact finding, the Nurse Council cited that nurses wanted more control over their professional and personal lives, asserting that employer’s inability to address issues mandatory overtime and extensive off shift and weekend assignments for higher senior nurses contributed to the impasse.
Fact finder Barry Brown conducted nine days of testimony. Those who provided testimony for the Nurse council included Barron, Mark Kempton, Cheryl Johnson, Hartwick, Sandra Wilson, Jody Berney, and Deborah Stoll. James Chiodini, a well known labor attorney active in the nursing community, and Diane Davis Waller, the MNA Labor Representative were also instrumental in constructing the Nurse Council’s case.
Based on the recommendation of Brown, the parties agreed to two years of consecutive wage increases of 10% each year, and to substantially increase the off shift bonuses as an incentive to open up more straight day shifts for more senior nurses. Unfortunately, again the Nurse Council could not secure a prohibition on mandatory overtime.
The significant wage increases did produce a positive effect on staffing, scheduling and overtime as the 250 open positions that existed before the strike were filled soon after the settlement.
Toward a New Approach
Even though the Nurse Council and University did eventually find their way to an Agreement, their relationship was virtually destroyed. The lack of communication and trust left both parties with little reserves to jointly tackle the daily problems they both needed to address.
After the strike and settlement, the leadership from UMPNC and Medical Center’s Human Resource Department and Nursing Administration began to explore whether there could be another model that could guide both sides in meeting their respective obligations to their constituents without the negative outcomes associated with the combative approach of traditional bargaining.
The Nurse Council leadership understood the risks of exploring a different relationship with the employer in negotiating and implementing Agreements. Deborah Stoll was elected the second Chair of the UMPNC in 1991. She was responsible for overseeing the first Agreement reached under Mutual Gains Bargaining. Stoll with her counterparts in Human Resources, Deborah Childs, and in Nursing Administration, Beverly Jones, with facilitation of Edward Hartfield and Patricia Moore firmly established the new relationship.
Some of the successful outcomes related to Mutual Gains Bargaining included the appointment of the Chair to the highest level decision making body in Nursing, the Nurse Executive Council; the salvaging of the Continuing Care Department; and the joint creation and implementation of a shared governance model concerning clinical practice, the Professional Practice Model. Another concrete benefit of this new approach was the creation of a unit based, nurse practice committee to confront the issue of having sufficient nursing resources to meet patent care needs. The Workload Review Committees were comprised of nurses and the Nurse Manager on each unit, jointly appointed by the Nurse Council and University, to address of problem of excessive workload to ensure the long term viability of the unit, including quality patient care and employee satisfaction.
The third Chair of the Nurse Council, Cheryl Johnson, was elected in 1995. During her tenure as Chair, the University embarked on the austere Cost Efficiency Program which cut millions of dollars from the nursing budget, resulting in the elimination of about 70 nursing positions. Despite such challenging times, the Nurse Council preserved the gains of previous Agreements.
The 2001 Agreement
With the 2001 Agreement and Stoll again as Chair leading the negotiation team, the Nurse Council finally gained tangible limits on mandatory overtime. The contract provided that nurses could not be forced to work more than 8-16 hours above their appointment fraction in a month, and any hours that nurses volunteered for counted toward the limit. Further the Agreement stated that volunteers must always be sought first for overtime, and if nurses volunteered beyond the limit, those nurses could earn up to 2 1/2 times their wages. Further, because of continued effort to stabilize units, some of the limits have decreased to 6-12 hours in a month. Also, because of the stabilization of many units, the little amount of overtime that exists on those units is filled only by volunteers. Finally, with this Agreement, wages increased between 20-26%. Those members on the first table Negotiating Team for the 2001 Agreement in addition to Stoll were Marianne Aranda, Helen Baumgartel, Stephen Dorer, Chris Brown, Suzanne Lewis, Christine Anderson, John Armelagos and Fred Vocino.
The 2004 Agreement
In August 2004, the 3,000 member Nurse Council ratified a new four-year contract. The contract was approved by a 4 to 1 margin with the highest turnout in the union’s history. The Agreement secured compensation increases between 12.5 to 26 percent over the life of the Agreement. The Agreement also provided that the methodology for determining the shared health care cost between the Nurse Council members and the University and the costs of prescription medications could not be altered.
The hallmark of the 2004 Agreement was the Framework for Professional Development that was designed to recognize RN’s based on objective patient care behaviors. The new Framework eliminated barriers that prevented RN’s from advancing within the former ‘clinical ladder’ system that limited promotions to unit budgets.
The Chair of the Nurse Council was John Armelagos. Members of the first table Negotiation Team included Stephanie Minerath, Lisa Sylvest, Katie Oppenheim, Suzanne Lewis, Mary Tierney, Felicia Kieme, Theresa Thompson, and Marty Fuhrmann. Roberta Duda serves as the Nurse Council’s Treasurer. During this team’s tenure, the Nurse Council improved the Nurse Council website in an effort to increase communication within the organization, reinforced its ties with the MNA, and reestablished relations with other bargaining units at the University to address the common concerns of securing affordable health care and protecting access to retirement.
The 2008 Agreement
In September, 2008 the membership of nearly 4000 UMPNC nurses ratified an agreement negotiated by John Armelagos, Chair, Stephanie Minerath, Vice Chair, and area representatives Marietta Brooks, Felicia Kieme, Mary Lenewski, Suzanne Lewis, Sue Nehring, Katie Oppenheim, Theresa Thompson, and MNA Labor Rep Fred Vocino. This agreement provided competitive salaries, overtime limits of 8 hours per 4 week period, and health care benefits cost containment. Strong health and safety language was negotiated to ensure ongoing surveillance management, and prevention of injuries and exposures sustained by nurses in the workplace. A new full time released officer was secured through the agreement.
The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council is the largest bargaining unit within both the MNA and the United American Nurses. Nurse Council members are leaders across the state and nation and are active as delegates to MNA, members of the MNA Board of Directors, Officers of the MNA, and delegates to the UAN.
At the time of this writing, the UMPNC is preparing for an upcoming election for the 5 executive officers as well as multiple area (grievance) reps and district reps.
The UMPNC/MNA as an advocate for the professional aspirations of its members is a strong example of the power of collective bargaining for nurses to improve their work lives and promote quality care for the patients they serve
Authors: John Armelagos, Jody Berny, & Stephanie Minerath, October 2008
University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council 4343 Concourse Dr., Suite 230, Ann Arbor, MI 48108-8802