Nurses allege Meriter “harassed and threatened” them; hospital calls claim “untrue”

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 5:21 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Nurses have filed at least one charge against Unity-Point Meriter Hospital Friday afternoon following back and forth conversations about their contracts.

The union representing the nurses, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, accuse the hospital system of violating their rights “by engaging in harassment and threats.” The nurses are also arguing the hospital is wasting resources on an “intimidation campaign” rather than addressing concerns.

In a statement announcing the filing with the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces federal labor law, the SEIU did not provide any details about specific allegations against the hospital or any members of its staff or negotiating team.

Shortly after nurses’ announcement, Meriter issued a statement saying the allegations were false.

“These allegations are surprising and untrue. We have not been provided any specifics regarding these allegations and are working to learn more about this filing,” a Meriter spokesperson said.

The union’s statement adds nurses are concerned taxpayer support for the non-profit hospital is not being responsibly prioritized for nurses and their patients.

As Meriter and its nurses met with a federal mediator Friday, the hospital system submitted a new proposal. Representatives with Meriter said they did receive a proposal from SEIU on Thursday night and are actively engaged in negotiations.

“We are anxiously waiting to hear back from the union, and again, we are prepared to negotiate into the night, into the wee hours of the morning. We are willing to negotiate over the weekend,” Meriter’s chief nursing executive, Sherry Casali, said.

Meriter hopes to come to an agreement Friday night to avoid a strike by nurses that could start next Wednesday.

Louise Nordstrom, a Meriter registered nurse, said the main hold ups surround paid time off and incentive pay.

“When we were sick with COVID, or if we were quarantining like that, we would use our own time to cover those days off,” she said.

The system’s latest proposal includes an average 3.7% pay increase in 2021 and a 3.8% pay increase in 2022. The previous offer had outlined a 3.7% pay increase this year and next year—given out in two increments.

Meriter emphasized how this wage increase is above market rate and hourly wages average at about $47 per hour, totaling $99,000 per year for those who work 40 hours per week.

The offer also gave an additional 50 hours added to each nurses’ Earned Time bank, or sick and vacation time, which would be prorated by FTE for those hired before Jan. 1. In the third offer, hospital officials offered to add 40 hours to each nurse’s Earned Time bank, prorating it for FTE. Before that, the hospital had only said it would “address concerns” for nurses who had a negative balance.

“I think our earned time proposal that we have right now is very fair, and again I believe it is above market,” Casali said.

Officials continued to say their offer will give nurses additional job protection during parental leave and incentive pay for picking up extra shifts on short notice.

Also like the previous offer, Meriter said they would be committed to address employee absences in future public health emergencies.

SEIU has not detailed the specifics of what they would like in the contract or what they disagree on with Meriter’s counter-offers. The union said they will either reach an agreement or vote to strike this weekend.

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

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