UW Health emergency room will be open during strike

The emergency room at University Hospital will remain open during an upcoming three-day strike by nurses demanding UW Health recognize its attempts to organize.
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 3:13 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The emergency room at University Hospital will remain open during an upcoming three-day strike by nurses demanding UW Health recognize its attempts to organize.

Chief Nurse Executive Rudy Jackson explained the health system took steps to ensure enough nurses, doctors, and staff would be on hand to keep the ER open during the protest, which is slated to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and continue for next 72 hours.

Jackson’s comment came in a trio of brief video statements released Friday to assure patients that UW Health centers will function as close to normally as possible during the walkout.

“We wanted to make sure that our patients are protected every day and that the quality of care that they receive is just the same as it is every other day,” Jackson said in one of the clips.

In another clip, Jackson described the potential strikers as only “a small group of our nursing workforce” but went on to indicate the number was significant enough to prompt them to review staffing capabilities and enlist recruiters to bring in enough people to support its nurses. The health system refused NBC15 News’ request for an interview following the release of statements along with prior requests in recent days.

A UW Health spokesperson did release this statement:

“As is the case at all times, our focus is entirely upon our patients and ensuring that we can meet their healthcare needs, whether that is a clinic appointment, a virtual visit, a trip to the ED or a scheduled surgery. Patients who have any questions related to upcoming care are strongly encouraged to reach out to their provider as they would for any other visit.”

UW Health

The union working to organize the nurses, SEIU, has also been mum on the potential participants in the coming week’s strike. At the time of the vote to approve the walkout, a spokesperson for the union would only say that hundreds of nurses participated in the vote and that 99% of them backed the strike. Approximately 1,500 of 2,600 nurses eligible to join the union have signed cards supporting the drive, organizers claim. UW Health currently employs 3,400 nurses, according to the health system’s count.

The nurses joining the union effort argue they have dealt with understaffing, exhaustion, and burnout for years, issues only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue a union will offer better conditions for the nurses and increase the quality of patient care and a pushing to bring UW Health to the bargaining table.

UW Health, which has called the planned protest “unfortunate” and accused the nurses of taking a step that could harm patients, contends its hands are tied by the controversial 2011 law that curtailed public employees’ collective bargaining powers in Wisconsin. If organizers want to have their union recognized, UW Health asserted, they will have to settle the matter in a courtroom.

The SEIU noted the nurses strike, should it happen, would be one of the largest by a group seeking representation in recent history.