Nurses at the University of Michigan hospital won a big victory Oct. 1 when they approved a contract with management that ends the impossible burden placed on them caused by the shortage of nurses nationwide.

That shortage has resulted in nurses working in extra-long shifts and neglect of the patients they serve. Their schedules were consistently changed and the hospital created an uncompensated on-call system and mandatory overtime. It became a routine strategy for the hospital to try to resolve the perpetual understaffing of nurses.

After six months of difficult negotiations and the threat of a strike, a contract was finally agreed upon and ratified by the nurses. It provides that nurses will not be used to resolve issues of short staffing; it was management’s responsibility to resolve the problem but not on the backs of its nurses.

“Our job is to take care of patients,” said Renee Curtis, president of the 6,200 member Michigan Nurses Association-University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council. “Our job is not to worry about who is being hired or how to hire or how to retain staff. That is management’s job.”

The problem dates back to the 1980s with the corporate takeover of health care systems and staff cutting became a way to cut costs and increase profits. Nurses have been demanding that staffing reflect a realistic nurse-to-patient ratio that accurately reflect the number of patients a nurse can care for. Otherwise, declared union member Anne Jackson, you’re just “running room to room putting out fires.” Another commented, “It can feel a lot of times in our health care system like nobody really gets the care that they deserve.”

This new Michigan contract breaks the ground for other nurses actions that can result in better patient care.

Jacobin, 10/8