Sparrow caregivers to rally for fair contract, safe patient care

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Unionized Sparrow caregivers will be holding an informational picket today alongside community members.

Based on RSVPs alone, organizers estimate that approximately 1,000 people will attend the rally, with more wearing red inside the hospital to show their support while on the job.

Sparrow plans to operate normally during the pickets, citing that Sparrow has met with the union 19 times since negotiations began on July 28, and “significant progress is being made on a number of issues.”

The contract for 53 different classifications of healthcare workers employed at the hospital including nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory scientists expired on Saturday, October 30.

A statement from Sparrow details proposals “to help improve our staffing levels and outside of negotiations we continue to post, approve and interview for positions. We also recruit and retain caregivers by participating in dozens of career fairs each year, recruit at schools around the state, offer referral, sign on and retention bonuses and reward caregivers who commit to additional shifts with cash bonuses up to $10,000, among many other initiatives.”

The following are a few facts released from Sparrow regarding negotiations:

  • A 4% general increase upon contract ratification.
  • A 3% general in October 2023 and 2024 and 1% step progression increase in May 2023 and 2024, this represents a total of a 4% increase each contract year for a total of a 12% over 3 years.
  • Sparrow Hospital proposed a one-time lump sum bonus payment of $1,000 for all Full Time and $500 for all Part-time bargaining unit members.
  • Sparrow Hospital has spent $22 million from January thru September 2021 YTD on overtime, on-call and premium pay for caregivers, 56%, or $12.3 million was paid to PECSH-MNA bargaining unit members. Of that, RNs directly received $11.4 million.
  • Sparrow Hospital has a Memo of Understanding with MNA/PECSH to provide full-time RNs a $10,000 lump sum bonus for working an extra 12-hour shift each week for eight weeks. Approximately 170 RNs are participating in this program.
  • Sparrow Hospital continues to offer bonus shifts at time-and-one-half up to an additional $20 an hour. Using the average pay rate of an RN, this equates to $75 per hour.
  • Sparrow Hospital has spent $22 million on overtime, on-call and premium pay for caregivers this year, and nearly $300 million in overall salary costs, both up by about 10 percent.
  • Sparrow Hospital’s supply costs have risen by 30 percent, or $25 million, since 2019.
  • Sparrow Hospital lost in excess of $31 million in 2020, this was after receiving substantial federal and state relief funds. Sparrow expects to post an operating loss in 2021, as well.
  • Sparrow is experiencing increasing healthcare premiums in all of our health care plans, similar to many other employers in the State of Michigan. Sparrow has proposed that in 2022, MNA members continue to pay the same percentage share of the premium as in their current contract.
  • Sparrow continually evaluates its wages and benefits to ensure that we are competitive with other similar health systems within the State of Michigan. MNA-represented caregivers receive a competitive compensation and benefit package and we are committed to keeping it that way.

Since a contract wasn’t reached by Oct. 30, the parties could continue negotiations until a settlement is reached, extend the contract while negotiations continue. It’s also possible that PECSH-MNA may ask caregivers to vote to authorize a strike, though there has been no talk of that to date.

According to a release from the Michigan Nurses Association, PECSH-MNA members say that if hospital executives do not change their actions after the picket, they are prepared to call for a strike authorization vote.

“The pandemic has shown us the flaws in our health care 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. 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.”

Michigan Nurses Association’s local at Sparrow (PECSH-MNA.)

Although they want to avoid a strike at all costs, Sparrow has stated that they are prepared to continue serving the community and will continue to operate successfully in the event of a strike.

Hundreds of healthcare workers are stood outside Sparrow Hospital on Tuesday, picketing for fair wages and more staffing.

Negotiations have continued on since July with Sparrow and the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital.

On Saturday, October 30th, the union contract expired.

People stood with signs, saying they’re picketing for their patients and that they need safe staffing. 6 News spoke with a Sparrow employee earlier who said there are a lot of issues they want addressed, but staffing is the biggest priority, followed by fair wages and making sure health care costs don’t increase.

6 News spoke with the president of Sparrow Hospital who said that they have nine negotiation meetings with union leaders in the month of November, and they hope to reach an agreement.

If things don’t turn out the way union wants, members say that a strike is not off the table.

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