MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers issued a brief tweet of support Friday for UW Health nurses who threatened to strike, urging hospital administrators “to come to the table, negotiate a fair agreement, and recognize the union and rights of these nurses.”
“Our nurses at UW Health deserve to have a voice in their workplace so they can do what they do best — care for their patients and keep them healthy and safe,” Evers said in the tweet.
The governor’s support follows a vote Wednesday in which hundreds of UW Health nurses supported a three-day strike from Sept. 13 to Sept. 16 if hospital administrators fail to recognize their union, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin.
If management does not recognize the union, the nurses will provide a 10-day notice to UW Health so administrators can make preparations to ensure patient safety, as is required by federal labor law.
Evers met virtually with more than 400 nurses earlier this year. He subsequently asked state Attorney General Josh Kaul to issue a formal opinion on state law, specifically how the Act 10 state law enacted in 2011 affected unionization efforts.
On June 2, Kaul issued an opinion that stated University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority, which includes UW Health facilities, can choose to voluntarily engage in the collective bargaining process with its nurses but is not required to do so.
UW Health nurses strike threat called ‘dissapointing’
Unlike public unions like those representing teachers, who lost most collectively bargain rights after the passage of Act 10, the nurses employed by UW Health are not public employees. They have been private employees since 1996 when the hospital system became an authority.
Emily Kumlien, a UW Health spokesperson, called the decision by the nurses to authorize a strike “disappointing.”
“While UW Health can appreciate the idea of social activism, whether anyone supports or opposes recognizing a union to engage in collective bargaining is irrelevant until we determine whether one is legally allowed,” Kumlien said in a statement Thursday.
That is the technical question now standing between the nurses and the hospital’s top administrators.
“They will harm patients knowing that their actions will not gain them an answer to these legal questions,” Kumlien said Thursday. “They will also harm patients knowing there is a better option.”
University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic Authority, the formal name for the health care system, includes several clinics in the greater Madison area, as well as UW Health (hospital), Madison East Hospital and the American Family Children’s Hospital. It employs 3,400 nurses, with the union estimated to include 2,600 nurses.
Jessica Van Egeren is a watchdog and social justice editor with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. Contact her at email@example.com.