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Strike’s off: Madison’s Meriter hospital nurses ratify union contract

Strike’s off: Madison’s Meriter hospital nurses ratify union contract

Meriter Hospital

Encouraging signs for hospital staff are displayed in the lawn outside of Meriter Hospital last March during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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With plans to strike this week, nurses on Saturday signed a new two-year contract with UnityPoint Health-Meriter that they say addresses their concerns over taking time to recover from working during the coronavirus pandemic. 

SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, a statewide union of healthcare workers that represents more than 850 UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital nurses, and the hospital have been bargaining for two weeks. In a statement, the union said nurses hope the contract encourages other essential workers to advocate for protections. 

“This is not only about taking a stand for Meriter nurses, but also for all our colleagues throughout the hospital, and all healthcare workers and essential workers through our state and country who have sacrificed so much over the past year,” Suzi Kossel, Meriter NICU and bargaining committee member, said in a statement.

According to a statement from Meriter chief nursing executive Sherry Casali, the contract furthers a commitment to the hospital’s nurses and adds to the current benefits provided, including full health and dental insurance, upfront tuition assistance, support for childcare and a wellness program that includes access to free mental health support. 

Casali said “nurses are our lifeblood.” 

“The past few weeks have been extremely stressful for everyone at Meriter and many in the community,” Casali said. “We are committed to moving forward under the contract, as one strong Meriter team, to do what we do best: provide high-quality, compassionate care to our patients and community.”

[Madison's Meriter hospital nurses prepared to strike]

The new contract expands paid time off with Meriter currently providing up to seven weeks per year for longtime nurses and increases extra shift and base pay. According to Meriter, the current hourly wage averages $47 per hour. SEIU said in the statement that the new contract also gives them greater voice in decision making.

As a part of ratifying the new contract, SEIU agreed to withdraw workforce allegations submitted to the National Labor Relations Board March 19.  

“Meriter continues to believe these vague allegations were untrue and without merit,” according to the hospital’s statement.  

On March 13, Meriter nurses notified hospital management they would strike starting Wednesday if they couldn’t reach a “fair contract.” Nurses wanted improved policies to “ensure nurses can take care of themselves, heal and recover after a traumatic year and be valued and respected for their essential work.”

SEIU’s efforts gained attention from elected officials, including Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Sens. Melissa Agard, Kelda Roys and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin; state Reps. Francesca Hong, Lisa Subeck and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan; Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.   

Twenty-three of the Dane County Board of Supervisors' 37 members submitted a letter in support of Meriter nurses, arguing they should have the “support they need to continue to provide the excellent level of care for our community.” 

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