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Mercy Health Muskegon workers set deadline for contract negotiations

The union hinted at a strike at a press conference on Monday
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Posted at 10:30 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 10:02:18-05

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Healthcare workers in Muskegon alluded to a strike after they set a deadline for contract negations on Monday with their parent company. 

Trinity Health - Mercy Hospital workers said if management fails to present agreeable terms by January 31, the union intends to authorize its bargaining committee to, “do what’s necessary to win a fair contract.” 

When asked directly by FOX17 if that meant people walking off the job, four workers paused, before Jaime Christenson, a worker in the food and nutritional services department, said, “We need to take care of business.” 

Christenson added, “They [Trinity Health] need to step up their game and said, ‘We do value you.’” 

Mercy’s union, SEIU Healthcare Michigan, represents roughly 1,800 workers across three units. 

According to SEIU, negotiations with Trinity Health began in 2019. 

The workers’ demands include raises and retention bonuses. 

SEIU says some workers last saw a wage increase in 2017. Employees also claimed Mercy’s pay is 15 to 20 percent below market value when compared to other hospitals in west Michigan. 

“I can go to Spectrum in Grand Rapids and make a lot more than an hour than I make now and I would get a very nice sign-on bonus,” said Cyndi Zeanwick, a respiratory therapist. What keeps me from leaving to travel is my family’s here. I don’t want to leave them.”

Workers also want safer staffing levels.

Zeanwick said of the 45 budgeted respiratory therapist positions, 24 are currently filled by travel contractors.

Kala Scholtens, a labor and delivery nurse, said this past weekend she had to float in the hospital’s emergency room because it was so short-staffed.

“When I was in the ER, at the beginning [of the pandemic], we were 1:3 staffing ratio, depending on the patient acuity,” said Scholtens. “Now, some of the nurses are taking four, five patients, even with an ICU vented patient, so it’s just not fair to the patients or their family and even our staff.”

In a statement to FOX17, Mercy Health pushed back on the years-long negotiation narrative and said contract talks began in February 2021.

The union said negotiations for nurses started then, not other units, like respiratory therapists, whose contracts expired in 2019.

Mercy Health added that it’s currently providing “critical staffing pay” to many classifications of workers and it recently offered retention and sign-on bonuses, which membership voted down.

According to the union, the incentives only applied to certain departments, not all hospital staff.

“We look forward to increasing the pace of our negotiations, with the ultimate goal of reaching new agreements with the union. We have been able to do so in the past, and see no reason we will not reach agreements with the union,” stated Mercy Health Muskegon.