Meriter releases some details of new contract offer to avoid nurses strike

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 3:05 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As federally-mediated negotiations between UnityPoint-Meriter and its nurses continue this week, the hospital has released the details of its latest proposal to reach a new contract and avert a possible strike next week.

Meriter’s statement Thursday indicates it is the third straight offer made by its side without a corresponding proposal by the SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, which represents the nurses. Hospital officials say they have not received a formal counterproposal in two weeks.

Last week, Meriter nurses overwhelmingly approved a possible strike and delivered a ten-day notice to the hospital on Saturday, meaning the nurses could hit the picket line as soon as Wednesday. While not publicly identifying the specifics of their proposals, unlike Meriter’s recent statements, SEIU has stated it wants a contract that gives nurses a “meaningful voice in decision making” and will allow them a fair way to recover from the year-long pandemic.

According to Meriter, this latest offer reiterates its offer of a 3.7% pay increase this year and next year, although it did not indicate whether those raises would come twice annually as the last offer dictated. The hospital has repeatedly asserted its nurses already earn above market rate among ones who work 40 hours per week.

Thursday’s statement calls for incentive pay for picking up extra shifts on short notice. How that relates to the previously cited critical shift incentive of $12/hour was not detailed.

Hospital officials also offered to add 40 hours to each nurse’s Earned Time bank, prorating it for FTE. Previously, the hospital had only said it would “address concerns” for nurses who had a negative balance. The hospital also said its offer “significantly increased” Earned Time in general for nurses.

Officials continued to say their offer will give nurses additional job protection during parental leave.

One item dropped in this latest publicly-released list that was included in the one released on Saturday is an $800 pandemic relief bonus to each nurse to acknowledge their work during the pandemic. It is unclear if that bonus remains in the hospital’s offer.

Hospital officials say they believe this contract is more than fair they are willing to continue talks to avoid the potential strike.

UnityPoint Health - Meriter nurses protest outside the Wisconsin State Capitol, on March 16,...
UnityPoint Health - Meriter nurses protest outside the Wisconsin State Capitol, on March 16, 2021.(WMTV/Jason Rice)

SEIU did not reply to NBC15 News’ request for a response to Meriter’s offer. However, on Saturday, they listed what they are looking for in a new contract. Although, their list did not include the kind of specificity of the hospital’s it provided an outline of what the nurses are asking for.

Those concerns include (language as provided by SEIU):

  • A reasonable work-life balance and sufficient paid time off that does not force nurses to use vacation days when they need sick days;
  • Just compensation for nurses who pick up extra shifts on their days off, which would mitigate staffing and scheduling problems; and
  • Protections against the current pandemic and any future public health emergencies.

UnityPoint Health also assured the community they have staffing plans in place “for safe patient care” should the strike occur.

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