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UW Health, SSM Health nurses call for unionization

Nurses said a union would make sure frontline workers have the resources they need to take care of patients and themselves.
Updated: May. 8, 2021 at 11:50 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Nurses and state leaders came together at the Wisconsin state Capitol Saturday, calling for unionization at UW Health and SSM Health hospital under SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin. This comes more than a month after nurses at UnityPoint Health Meriter reached a new contract agreement, but health care workers at UW and SSM are not represented by a union.

UW Health registered nurse Ashley Campbell was just one of dozens of nurses at the Capitol Saturday afternoon. Campbell has been a nurse for eight years, more than five of them as a nurse on the cancer unit at UW Health.

“We all come into it because we really want to help people,” Campbell said, continuing, “It should be this wonderful, rewarding career.”

However, Campbell said she and her coworkers are feeling the strain. She said she has watched many nurses struggle with burnout, and that struggle brought her to the Capitol, calling for union rights to be restored.

Nurses aid a union would help make sure frontline workers have the resources they need to take care of their patients and themselves.

“We need it now more than ever,” Campbell said.

Those resources are in short supply right now. Campbell explained she often sees shortages of staffing and protective equipment, even before the pandemic.

“Nurses put their safety to the side and gave the patients the care that they needed,” she said, adding, “Nurses have died that way.”

The mental and emotional toll has also pushed some nurses to leave the field.

“It wears you down,” Campbell said, explaining, “Most nurses I talk to are looking for their five or 10-year plan for how to get out of bedside nursing because they can’t see doing this for decades more and that breaks my heart.”

The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse.

“The pandemic shone the light on all of the cracks that already existed in our system,” Campbell explained.

At the Capitol Saturday, state and local leaders joined health care workers. The event included Governor Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

In remarks to the crowd, Evers acknowledged frontline workers’ struggles, saying, “At times it’s been exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally and you’re just stretched to the limit.”

Campbell said the recognition from government officials gives her hope that change is possible.

“It’s so wonderful to come out and see this show of support,” she said.

NBC15 reached out to UW Health for a response to nurses’ concerns and demands. In a statement, a spokesperson said, “UW Health leaders and staff nurses have been working together directly and collaboratively to meet the needs of our patients while following all state laws on collective bargaining. Our robust system of nursing shared governance is part of what makes UW Health a great place to work and a place our patients receive truly remarkable care.”

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