Nurses cry foul over working conditions at Sparrow Hospital

Labor union plans ‘informational picket’ amid contract negotiations


THURSDAY, Oct. 21 — A labor union that represents about 2,200 employees at Sparrow Health System in Lansing has organized a picket for next month outside of the hospital on Michigan Avenue amid concerns over nursing shortages and inadequate working conditions for its staff.

The Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital — a local subsect of the Michigan Nurses Association — announced plans this morning for an “informational picket” Nov. 3 while the union continues to bargain with administrators for a “fair” contract.

“The pandemic has shown us the flaws in our healthcare system and how vital it is that these flaws be fixed. Sparrow executives cannot keep choosing to skate on thin ice with our staffing levels,” said Katie Pontifex, a local nurse and president of the Professional Employee Council. “There isn't a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers in this state. There is a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers willing to work under the current conditions that hospital executives have become way too comfortable with over the years. The worse staffing gets, the more qualified caregivers we lose. Something has to change, and it needs to change now.”

Officials at Sparrow Hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment today. 

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

The key issue in the dispute: Despite receiving $106 million in pandemic-related funding from the federal government, hospital officials have so far refused to implement retention incentives or reinstate longevity bonuses for its existing staff, according to a press release sent today from the union.

The key demand: “A fair contract that recruits and retains caregivers and puts patients before profits,” according to Kevin Glaza, union vice president and pharmacist at Sparrow Hospital.

And with less than two weeks until the union’s current collective bargaining agreement expires Oct. 30, union officials said that top hospital administrators have refused to follow existing contract language regarding “safe staffing” levels, decided to raise healthcare costs by about 12% for caregivers and fell short on its proposed future wage increases — effectively “asking frontliners to take a pay cut in the middle of a pandemic,” union officials contended.

“I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am tired of being asked to keep doing more with less. We need safe staffing. We need to recruit and retain nurses and other caregivers. We need to be heard,” said Jennifer Ackley, a nurse who works in the Emergency Department. “Sparrow executives cannot keep trying to use the pandemic as an excuse not to do the right thing.”

Shortly before contract negotiations began, Sparrow hired Barnes and Thornburg,  a law firm that specializes in “union avoidance,” according to its website. The union has labeled that move as “an aggressively anti-union approach” to contract negotiations. And while next month’s picket plan isn’t a work stoppage, it could develop into a full-blown strike if a new contract isn’t settled.

“We sincerely hope that Sparrow executives listen to nurses, healthcare professionals and community members and start negotiating in good faith,” Pontifex said in a release. “However, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to advocate for our patients and our community.”

Added Julie Mason, a clinic laboratory scientist at Sparrow Hospital: “We are advocating for safe staffing. We are advocating to retain caregivers. Rather than investing in the frontlines, Sparrow’s executives have chosen to hire anti-union attorneys to try to silence our collective voice. We are holding this informational picket to say we will not be silenced.”

(The afterhours hospital picket is scheduled for 4:50-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 3..)

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4 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • bobbyblue359

    Be careful with your protest: Remember what happened on Jan,6th. FBI & antifa broke into the Congressional chambers and those that followed were labeled insurrectionists. If you stand for your rights out on the sidewalk, I might be inside Sparrow, afraid for my life & hide under a gurney & then you'll be labeled a bunch of rioters. The FBI will come & take you away & then we'll all be safe again as we die inside the hospital because there is no one to care for us. The world has gone mad. If you want good help you have to PAY for it. Nothing is free. This "Let'em eat cake " stuff has got to stop.

    Friday, October 22, 2021 Report this

  • Dickyzinya

    Healthcare has become a place of misery, PTSD, and bad habits.

    Friday, October 22, 2021 Report this

  • pzang4920

    Bob Ginther, Your post is bizarre. Nurses and medical professionals are saving lives including the anti vaxxers who are ill informed, overcrowding our hospitals, exhausting our dedicated care givers and continue to deny and ignore the life saving benefits of the amazing COVID vaccines available to everyone. Sadly, many of these same people support hate politics and authoritarian, anti-democratic governance. Our nurses and caregivers need to be supported and rewarded for their dedication to the health and well being of their patients even at their own risk. Their work environment needs to be supportive of their personal and professional dedication and sacrifices to providing life saving care for ALL of us. Be respectful and grateful that our nurses and healthcare professionals will be there for you when you need them.

    Saturday, October 23, 2021 Report this

  • MrsMoose

    Continued: I am a nurse not a costumer relations person for high marks on their survey. A lot would have to change before I would consider going back to work as a nurse for Sparrow Hospital.

    Sunday, October 24, 2021 Report this

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