Madison, Wis. – Today, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that, as part of a national campaign to secure unions for all, they would work with a group of nurses at UW Health to conduct a strike starting at 7 a.m. Sept. 13 until 7 a.m. Sept 16 unless the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority voluntarily recognizes SEIU and collectively bargains a contract with them.
UW Health has been ranked the highest-quality hospital in Wisconsin for 11 consecutive years. Our compensation, particularly for nurses, is among the best in the region. Our staffing ratios are among the best in the nation. Our nursing turnover rate is approximately half of the national average — and after hiring more than 300 new nurses — our vacancy rate is well below that of the majority of health systems. No national advocacy campaign can take away the fact that UW Health is a great place to work with the highest quality care in Wisconsin.
While UW Health can appreciate the idea of social activism, whether anyone supports or opposes recognizing a union to engage in collective bargaining is irrelevant until we determine whether one is legally allowed. At this time, the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Council and Legislative Reference Bureau, as well as internal legal counsel and external legal counsel agree that the health system cannot legally collectively bargain under Wisconsin law, due to the Act 10 legislation passed in 2011. The Attorney General has said he believes we can, but by his own admission states that his opinion is not law and that only the courts or the legislature can provide a conclusive answer. UW Health will not violate the law.
The decision by SEIU to conduct a strike is disappointing. They will harm patients knowing that their actions will not gain them an answer to these legal questions. They will also harm patients knowing there is a better option. The Attorney General Opinion suggested that the union could petition the state for recognition through traditional channels. Taking that route would avoid a strike and move us closer to getting a definitive answer from the courts on whether UW Health can legally recognize and bargain with a union.
While we hope SEIU reconsiders this unfortunate decision, we must take them at their word that a strike will happen. As we approach their stated strike dates, our efforts will be focused on protecting our 700,000 patients from care disruptions and our 16,000 Madison-based providers and staff from threats and intimidation. This strike will be unpleasant for patients and for our staff, but we will get through it and never lose sight of our shared mission to meet the needs of our patients.