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Wisconsin hospitals will be eligible for $40 million in total federal funding for revenue, expenses related to COVID-19. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow.)

UW Hospital board still not recognizing unionization effort 

An effort by nurses with the area’s largest healthcare system is growing, with the Dane County Board poised to pass a resolution and more than 450  local residents signing a petition to show their support. 

The resolution to support the professional nurses in the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority (UWHCA) will be up for a vote at Thursday’s Dane County Board meeting. 

“One of our core values in Dane County is respecting the labor movement,” said Yogesh Chawla, the author of the resolution. “We need to do everything we can to show the nurses we support them.”

Nurses with UW Hospitals and Clinics announced in mid-December they had formed a union through SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and asked for voluntary recognition from the UWHCA Board of Directors. In recent weeks, they have seen an outpouring of support from community members in Madison and across the state.

Last month, the nurses held a town hall meeting at the Labor Temple in Madison. Roughly 175 members of the public attended to ask questions and show their support. Since then, an online petition has garnered more than 450 signatures of support.

Those who support their unionization efforts are being asked to attend the next UWHCA board meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27,  at University Hospital, Room H6/215. Nurses will also be in attendance at the Dane County Board meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Room 201. 

Aimee Muchie, a registered nurse with UW Hospital since 2011, has been involved in the unionization effort from the beginning. She said she was naive about how the process would play out.

“I thought we would get a majority of nurses to sign a form (supporting the union), we would ask the board to do the right thing and they would recognize our union,” she said. “I thought they would see the amount of signatures as a sign there was a problem. I thought they would see it as a lot of people wanting a seat at the table.”

She said a majority of the hospital’s 2,000 nurses have now signed on to the effort. Muchie said the board’s ongoing refusal to recognize the union is another way “their voices are not being heard.”

The right to keep their union was eliminated when former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved Act 10 in 2011. While Act 10 cut union rights for most Wisconsin public employees,  it ended collective bargaining entirely for workers at UW Hospitals and Clinics.

The union contract the nurses had in place at the time Act 10 was passed expired in 2014. The nurses organizing the union campaign said they understand their collective bargaining rights have been eliminated by state law. 

That is why they are taking a different approach. 

Through a process known as voluntary meet and confer, the nurses and hospital would negotiate for anything they want with the nurses voluntarily. It is just not a legal process like collective bargaining, which is governed by law. 

“I still think we have a lot of work to do,” Muchie said. “But the community support has been phenomenal.”

Chawla said in an industry like healthcare in which nurses work in a high-stress environment and deal with life or death situations, the public needs to have confidence that when they go to a hospital they will receive optimal care from a fully staffed department.

He said his mother came to America from India, starting in the healthcare industry as a certified nursing assistant and then earning a degree as a registered nurse. He said he saw how much she cared for her patients and became an extended member of their families. When patients passed away, she was there with them, he said.

“Every day we have so many nurses giving so much of themselves,” Chawla said. “When we think about everything they do for us, we need to make sure they have a voice at the table.”