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Sparrow Hospital workers' union authorizes strike if contract agreement isn't reached

Protest 4.jpg
Kevin Lavery
Sparrow caregivers picket outside the main hospital in Lansing to secure a new contract that includes better working conditions on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. The union contract expired October 30.

Updated on Nov. 22 at 8:27 p.m. ET

Nurses and healthcare professionals at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital are prepared to strike if an agreement on a new contract isn’t reached.

Members of the Professional Employees Council (PECSH-MNA) of Sparrow Hospital overwhelmingly approved strike authorization in a vote that ended Sunday.

Bargaining teams met again on Monday in hopes of reaching an agreement. Kevin Glaza, a pharmacist at Sparrow, said the vote does not mean they will go on strike. Rather, it gives union leadership the power to call for one if a deal isn’t reached.

"Right now, the ball's in Sparrow’s court," he said. "We're waiting for a strong proposal that will help us recruit and retain our caregivers, so that we can provide the best possible care for our community."

Glaza has been working at Sparrow for the last twenty four years. He says he was disappointed when he found out the hospital was offering $200 dollars per hour to pharmacists in the area to come work at the hospital in an effort to offset a potential walk off.

"They're willing to pay that, but they're not willing to give the caregivers that are currently working here fair wages to even keep up with the cost of living," he said. "It's just ridiculous."

John Foren, a spokesperson for the hospital, says they presented a revised proposal to the bargaining team Monday afternoon.

"We were able to identify the structure of a deal in which the health system would provide an unprecedented compensation package to our nurses and other healthcare professionals represented by PECSH-MNA," he added.

Katie Pontifex, president of PECSH-MNA, called Sparrow's proposal unacceptable in a statement.

"Nothing in Sparrow executives’ proposal addresses the immediate staffing crisis as caregivers are forced to take care of more patients than is safe," she said.

The proposal involves an increase in wages but doesn't include changes to the cost of health insurance for workers, something members of the bargaining team are negotiating for.

Destinee Griffin has been working as a nurse at Sparrow for the last nine years. She voted in favor of the strike authorization. She says she would like to see a contract proposal that involves reducing the number of patients a nurse cares for per shift and a more affordable health care plan.

"When somebody is taking care of almost twice the number of patients that they should be, care is going to suffer because you can only be in one place at one time and you can only do so many things in twelve hours," she added.

As of Monday evening, Sparrow and the bargaining team had not reached an agreement. They are scheduled to go back to the bargaining table next Monday.

The union would give the hospital ten days' notice if a strike is called.

Corrected: November 22, 2021 at 8:29 PM EST
Destinee Griffin's name was previously written as Destiny Griffith. This has been corrected.
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