UnityPoint-Meriter nurses approve contract averting COVID-19 pandemic 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)
Published: Mar. 20, 2021 at 8:17 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2021 at 10:52 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Registered nurses who work at UnityPoint Health-Meriter voted Saturday to approve a new contract, according to their union.

The nurses union, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, made the announcement following three days of federally-mediated negotiations. The union represents 850 nurses at Meriter.

According to release from SEIU, the new contract secured “meaningful improvements to key policies,” including expanded and fully replenished paid time off for nurses who used up their leave during the pandemic, up to 60 additional paid time off to use this year, improved extra shift pay and more.

“I was proud the elected bargaining committee was able to unanimously and enthusiastically recommend that our co-workers vote to approve this agreement,” said Suzi Kossel, RN in the NICU at Meriter Hospital and bargaining committee member, in a release.

Before the final vote, a spokesperson for UnityPoint-Meriter told NBC15 the health system was “extremely pleased” to have reached the tentative deal.

The deal comes just days before a potential strike by the nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the nurses had approved the possible walkout and delivered their ten days notice last Saturday, meaning a strike could have happened as soon as Wednesday.

The hospital and union both submitted new proposals before they met with a federal mediator Friday for the third and final day in this latest round of negotiations.

UnityPoint-Meriter nurses had voiced that their main concerns are paid time off and incentive pay, saying that when they had COVID or had to quarantine, they had to use their own time to cover those days off.

UnityPoint-Meriter’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.

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.

Saturday’s vote comes one day after nurses filed at least one charge against UnityPoint-Meriter Hospital for allegedly violating their rights “by engaging in harassment and threats.” They argue the hospital was wasting resources on an “intimidation campaign” rather than addressing concerns.

Shortly after the nurses’ announcement, Meriter issued a statement saying the allegations were “surprising and untrue.”

SEIU is now withdrawing those workforce allegations, as part of ratification.

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