Sparrow Caregivers Announce Informational Picket to Demonstrate for Safe Staffing and a Fair Contract

Lansing, MI – Caregivers at Sparrow Hospital announced that they will be holding an informational picket on the sidewalk outside the hospital on November 3. Nurses and health professionals say that they are speaking out to advocate for patients and each other.

“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,” said Katie Pontifex, RN, president of the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital, the Michigan Nurses Association’s local at Sparrow (PECSH-MNA.) “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.”

Sparrow Health System has received $106 million in pandemic-related government funds from the CARES Act. However, nurses and healthcare professionals note that Sparrow’s administration has refused to implement retention incentives or reinstate longevity bonuses.

“I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am tired of being asked to keep doing more with less. We need safe staffing. We need to recruit and retain nurses and other caregivers. We need to be heard,” said Jennifer Ackley, a nurse who works in the Emergency Department. “Sparrow executives cannot keep trying to use the pandemic as an excuse not to do the right thing.”

“We are advocating for safe staffing. We are advocating to retain caregivers,” said Julie Mason, a clinical laboratory scientist in the Microbiology Department. “Rather than investing in the frontlines, Sparrow’s executives have chosen to hire anti-union attorneys to try to silence our collective voice. We are holding this informational picket to say we will not be silenced.”

Shortly before contract negotiations began, Sparrow’s administration chose to hire Barnes and Thornburg, a law firm that specializes in “union avoidance,” according to their website. Since that time, Sparrow executives have taken an aggressively anti-union approach in contract negotiations. Among other issues, caregivers highlight that Sparrow’s administration has:

  • Refused to follow existing contractual language regarding safe staffing and made a proposal to effectively eliminate it completely in the next contract;
  • Unilaterally decided that they will raise healthcare costs by about 12% for caregivers; and
  • Proposed future wages for caregivers that fall significantly below the rising cost of living expenses, effectively asking the frontlines to take a pay cut in the middle of a pandemic when other hospitals are offering retention incentives.

“Sparrow executives shouldn’t seek to avoid our union; they should seek to work together and respect the voices of the frontlines,” said Kevin Glaza, a pharmacist at Sparrow Hospital and vice president of PECSH-MNA. “All we are asking for is a fair contract that recruits and retains caregivers and puts patients before profits.”

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

“We sincerely hope that Sparrow executives listen to nurses, healthcare professionals, and community members and start negotiating in good faith,” said Pontifex. “However, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to advocate for our patients and our community.”

The contract for nurses and health professionals expires on October 30. The informational picket will be held on Wednesday, November 3, outside of the hospital. Picketing will begin at approximately 4:50 p.m. and go until 6:30 p.m. This is not a work stoppage; everyone participating will be doing so during non-work hours.

The Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital is a local of the Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA.) The union represents approximately 2,200 members across 53 different job classifications at Sparrow Hospital including nurses, pharmacists, and laboratory scientists. The Michigan Nurses Association is the largest and most effective union for nurses and healthcare professionals in Michigan, representing approximately 13,000 members across the state. MNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United.

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Contact: Amelia Dornbush, 517-896-7478

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