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Hospital caregivers protest outside Sparrow Hospital demanding better conditions

November 4, 2021
<p>Sparrow nurses along with supporters of them picket along Michigan Avenue in Lansing on Nov. 3, 2021. The picket was organized by the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital-Michigan Nurses Association, and shown is PECSH President and Sparrow nurse, Katie Pontifex, speaking at the event. </p>

Sparrow nurses along with supporters of them picket along Michigan Avenue in Lansing on Nov. 3, 2021. The picket was organized by the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital-Michigan Nurses Association, and shown is PECSH President and Sparrow nurse, Katie Pontifex, speaking at the event.

Photo by Jillian Felton | The State News

Michael Mee is Lansing born and raised. He was born at Sparrow Hospital, he went to high school in Lansing and now works as an elevator constructor.

Mee had hip replacement surgery at the hospital last month. He said at one point after the surgery, he needed to go to the bathroom, so he hit a button to call someone to help him. 

An hour passed — no nurse showed up. About eight hours after he had a hip replaced, Mee swung over to the edge of the bed, lifted himself up and triggered the alarm that goes off when a patient gets out of bed.

Mee said he knew what the issue was — the nurses were short-staffed.

“(For) years I’ve been coming to Sparrow, and I’ve never had an experience like I did four weeks ago,” he said. “Ever.”

When Mee’s daughter, who is a caregiver, asked him to come out to the picket at Sparrow, he told her he would be there.

Along with hundreds of other red-clad protesters, Mee took to the streets in front of the hospital on the evening of Nov. 3, supporting the caregivers’ union and protesting the hospital’s policies and proposed contracts for pay, bonuses and benefits for caregivers.

The event was billed as an informational picket and was put on by the local hospital caregivers’ union Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital — Michigan Nurses’ Association, or PECSH-MNA. The union represents over 50 classifications of caregivers at the hospital, including nurses, pharmacists, lab workers and dietitians. 

Hospital administration proposed a new contract for the caregivers late last Friday, the last day of contract negotiations between them and the union. Many of the picketing workers cited high turnover rates, exhaustion from long hours and low pay.

Union president and registered nurse Katie Pontifex said the administration has made ratification of this contract impossible because the two sides are too far apart about annual pay increases and healthcare coverage.

The administration-proposed contract included a raise of 1% each year, for three years, which Pontifex said does not keep up with the cost of living. The new contract also includes a 12% increase in healthcare costs, which Pontifex said would mean an increase in $145 a month in some cases.

“Sparrow managed to make money in 2020,” she said. “While we took concessions last year thinking we were doing our part to help them stay afloat. And then we turned around and we watched managers, administrators and executives all get their year-end bonuses.”

The event also had guest speakers with state Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing; state Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-Lansing, and Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. When Bieber spoke, he read off a statement from Rep. Elissa Slotkin, telling the crowd she was sending her support.

Sparrow Hospital administration said in a media statement about the PECSH-MNA negotiations that healthcare premiums in all health care plans, not just for the PECSH-MNA caregivers. The statement also said that the hospital continues to offer competitive wages with other health systems in Michigan.

Kevin Glaza, the vice president of the union and pharmacist at Sparrow, said that the shortage of nurses has led to other problems within the hospital. Nurses see six to nine patients in an hour. This means there is less time a nurse can spend with each patient, which means other staff at the hospital are rushed, too.

“We feel, in the pharmacy, that we just get beat up," Glaza said. "I mean it’s tiring. By the end of our shifts, you feel defeated, and I don’t think hospital administration or most people don’t realize this. The staffing problem that we have here at the hospital really trickles down to a lot of other departments.”

Should the union formally reject the proposed contract, a new round of negotiations will begin Tuesday, Nov. 9. 

Pontifex said she hopes the picket will show the administrators that the union is serious about what they are asking for in negotiations. If the two parties do not reach an agreement, they will take a strike authorization vote. 

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“It is a last resort," Pontifex said. "We do not want to strike, but we are willing and able and ready to do whatever it takes to keep our community safe."

“In the event of a strike, Sparrow is prepared to continue serving the community and will continue to operate successfully,” Sparrow said in the statement.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 4:26 p.m. Nov. 5 to include a statement from Sparrow hospital.

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