Health Care Workers Across Wisconsin Demand Better Pay, Conditions
Nurses at a major Wisconsin health network are demanding higher wages and better working conditions after shouldering through two years of a pandemic and staffing shortages.
Health care staff working for Aspirus, which operates multiple hospitals and clinics across northern and central Wisconsin, have been mired in negotiations with the corporation. The workers are represented by the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
On top of the strain the pandemic has put on their already demanding jobs, nurses claim the low pay and working conditions that frequently put them in situations for which they are undertrained have driven some away from the profession at a time when nurses are needed more than ever.
“During our negotiations last year, we had, I think, over half of our ICU staff left,” registered nurse Greta Tomany, who works at Aspirus Langlade Hospital in Antigo, told UpNorthNews. “And we feel that if they paid us more fairly, that you would get staff to stay, you would get staff to come.”
The two sides remain far apart on the most contentious issues, according to the nurses.
The union is seeking a 6% boost in pay, while the latest offer put forward by Aspirus was 2%, an amount the workers were quick to point out did not even amount to enough to cover higher costs of living brought about by rising inflation.
Nurses who have specifically trained to handle one department’s functions now find themselves expected to care for patients with afflictions that they are not equipped to handle.
“Aspirus values the contributions of all our team members,” Aspirus Health said in a written statement provided to UpNorthNews on Thursday. “We have enjoyed positive relationships with our union partners and look forward to negotiating in good faith. It would not be appropriate for us to provide additional information right now, as we are scheduled to return to the bargaining table tomorrow.”
The nurses agreed that despite the differences between the two sides, all seemed to be working together in hopes of finding a workable solution. Tamony said members of her union were not talking about striking. The nurses are continuing to work under their current contract.
“I would hope that they (Aspirus) would take the time and listen, and, you know, be productive about this, try to keep staff, keep our patients in our community hospitals,” Tamony said.
The Aspirus nurses are the latest to join a crowd of Wisconsin health care employees pushing for better working conditions and pursuing higher pay.
Nurses at UW Health in Madison have attempted to unionize for years over worries about staffing levels, but thus far have been stymied.
Seven nurses who attempted to leave their jobs at ThedaCare in Appleton to take more lucrative positions with Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital were initially blocked from doing so by a judge after ThedaCare argued that the loss of the staff would risk severely injured patients at the hospital going without care. The judge reversed his decision after more thoroughly considering the case.
Last week, nurses rallied outside of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse demanding better pay, benefits, and safer working conditions. Their demonstrations earned support from several Democrats running for US Senate.
No date has yet been set for the negotiations between Aspirus and its nurses to resume, but Tamony thought it reasonable to expect more discussions in February.