'We all deserve better': TR Health nurses picket in hopes of fair contract
THREE RIVERS — Three Rivers Health nurses and supporters staged an outdoor picket Tuesday after going nearly two months without a contract.
A few dozen nurses, along with family, friends and other supporters, all wearing red for solidarity, staged the 90-minute informational picket outside Three Rivers Health, starting at the corner of Broadway Street and South Health Parkway, marching for a brief time to the hospital, and eventually to the corner of Broadway and U.S. 131.
Brandy Shoup, an emergency room nurse at Three Rivers Health and the president of the hospital’s chapter of the Michigan Nurse’s Association, said the nurses have been in contract negotiations with Beacon Health, which took over the hospital in October, since February. Their contract expired March 31.
“We’ve been trying to renegotiate our contract since the middle of February, so we’re currently working without a contract. We’ve been to the negotiation table several times and haven’t come to a conclusion, and we aren’t able to meet again until June,” Shoup said.
Shoup said there are a number of things nurses are asking for in a new contract. They include limiting the amount of mandated overtime hours, fair compensation, and safer staffing. She alleged that Beacon does not want to pay appropriately for their nurses, who she claims sometimes have to work 16-hour days, and claims that Beacon has at times cancelled paid time off and have threatened layoffs.
“We would like to have a limit on how many additional hours they require us to work. They don’t want to limit that. They also are not wanting to pay appropriately for those extra hours. They want to change the way they’re paying for it, so it ends up with us making less money for that,” Shoup said.
“Right now, we can come in and we work our eight- or 12-hour shifts and they can mandate us to work up to 16 hours a day with little or no notice, then we go home and it happens again the very next day. We’re trying to find that work-life balance.”
In a statement Friday, Beacon Health Director of Corporate Communications Heidi Prescott said Three Rivers Health “has been bargaining in good faith” with the Nurse’s Association “for several months” to reach a new contract, and has “proposed enhanced wages and benefits to the nurses as well as overtime payments consistent with applicable laws.”
“The hospital has no plans to lay off any nurses. In fact, Three Rivers Health is actively recruiting nurses,” Prescott said. “Three Rivers Health remains confident the parties will reach a fair agreement through their ongoing negotiations.”
Organizers clarified that Tuesday’s picket was not a strike, and that the nurses who participated were off shift, and patient care was not affected by the event.
Shoup said the issues they are picketing about are important not just to nurses, but to patients as well.
“They’re important for nurses for their own health and well-being, and it helps us provide better care for the patients we take care of. We know as nurses work more hours and become more exhausted, the chances of it rolling into patient care has been something that happens,” Shoup said.
A few of the nurses and supporters made speeches during the event, including Shoup, who said the community “has our backs” in their fight for a new contract, and that while she loves what they do for a living, she was “concerned” for her future.
“We’ve given it all through the pandemic, but we continue to give and give and then give some more. We are at our breaking point,” Shoup said. “We speak for many nurses when we say we were excited for Beacon Health coming to Three Rivers, because of the potential they can bring to us. Unfortunately, we’re no longer feeling that. We feel they’re taking advantage of our commitment to our patients and our community.
“Our patients need better, and they deserve better,” Shoup continued. “We all deserve better.”
A couple of other representatives from the state union, including Michigan Nurses Association President Jamie Brown, made speeches as well, thanking those who came out to support the nurses’ cause and that they were “proud” of everybody for “fighting for what’s right for nurses and patients” in the community.
“We have fought so many battles like this, and I’ll say, when we fight, we win,” Brown said.
Julie Olson, a TR Health ER nurse for nine and a half years and vice president of the union, said she was “tired” of working extra hours and missing out on time with her children.
“I’m ready for Beacon to invest in our nurses to keep nurses in our community,” Olson said. “I hope they hear us and they invest in us.”
Throughout the event, there were countless honking of horns from passers-by showing their support for the nurse’s cause. Some of the signs picketers held read “patients over profit,” “mandatory overtime hurts staffers,” and “fair pay for those who stay.”
Overall, Shoup said she hopes the nurses can secure a new contract soon, and that the informational picket will help people know what’s going on.
“I hope they take away that we’re united and want better conditions so we can serve our community better,” Shoup said.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.