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Alders and UW Health nurses will be flanked by 50 scrub tops held aloft on poles, each representing 200 empty nursing positions that will need to be filled by end of this decade

WHAT: Press conference with Madison Common Council Alders and nurses to announce resolution supporting a union voice at UW Health. There will be a Q&A session and individual interview availability afterwards.
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 2 at 11 am
WHERE: Front entrance of the City County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Madison

Madison, WI- Leading up to Labor Day, Common Council Alders Patrick Heck and Lindsay Lemmer will gather with nurses to announce a resolution supporting a union voice for UW Health nurses and calling for a fair union election to ensure quality patient care. Heck and Lemmer are the lead sponsors, and the resolution is also currently cosponsored by Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway; Common Council President Syed Abbas; Common Council Vice President Arvina Martin; and Alders Brian Benford, Grant Foster, and Michael Verveer.

The resolution states that during the pandemic, UW Health nurses "have been on the front lines, risking their lives and their families' lives to provide quality, compassionate patient care" and that "COVID-19 has intensified deep-seated, systemic problems in the UW Health system which have been worsening for years, ever since the administration stopped recognizing the nurses' union."

The alders and nurses will be flanked by 50 scrub tops held aloft on poles, which each represent 200 empty nursing positions in Wisconsin that will need to be filled by the end of this decade. The resolution declares that "in order to address the growing problems at UW Health, help solve the nursing shortage, and ensure the highest quality patient care, nurses must be able to have an independent voice through a union."

"During the pandemic, it's been a struggle to provide the best care to my patients in the oncology unit, because the UW Health administration is not listening to frontline nurses," said Ashley Campbell, who has over a decade of service at UW Health, first as a certified nursing assistant and now as a registered nurse. "With cancer patients, COVID is extremely dangerous because their immune systems are severely compromised. When we've raised concerns to the administration and presented the latest science about COVID safety, it's fallen on deaf ears. For example, we've told management that there is ample evidence that COVID is spread through airborne droplets, and we need to wear N95 masks in order to protect our vulnerable patients. No matter how many times we've brought this up, management still insists that all we need are the less effective surgical masks, despite the elevated risk for cancer patients to have severe cases of COVID. This is typical of how nurses--the ones actually providing direct patient
care--are left completely out of the loop in decision-making, especially around safety. Forming a union is about having the ability to advocate for both our patients and ourselves, and having a real say in how we can provide the safest, highest quality care."

For decades, UW Health nurses had a strong union and a solid contract, and were able to work collaboratively with management to set the standards for excellence in medical care. But after the passage of the anti-worker Wisconsin law Act 10, the UW Health administration failed to negotiate a new agreement with the nurses' union when their contract expired in 2014.

Since then, nurses have been struggling with grave problems such as deteriorating staff-to-patient ratios, decreased continuing education benefits, rising healthcare costs,
difficulties with recruitment and retention, and have had no independent voice to resolve these issues. The strong majority of nurses signed cards in 2019 expressing their desire to unionize, and presented those cards to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority (UWHCA) board, but the board refused to recognize their union.

Now, the foremost labor attorneys in the state have thoroughly reviewed current law, including Act 10, and concluded that UW Health can voluntarily recognize nurses as a union and start negotiating a new contract immediately. The resolution states that "it is a moral imperative for UW Health nurses to have the freedom to decide on their own whether to unionize, just like other nurses in Madison, so they can advocate effectively for themselves, their families, their patients and our community." The resolution goes on to urge "the UWHCA board and UW Health administration to work collaboratively with nurses and their representatives to develop a fair union election process without delay."


Common Council