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Nurses union to University of Michigan: ‘no cuts’ to benefits

AnnArbor.com, 8/13/11

By: Juliana Keeping
August 13, 2011
AnnArbor.com

Carrying signs with slogans like “Chop from the top,” and chanting “Nurses united will never be divided,” hundreds of University of Michigan nurses rallied Saturday to show support for a favorable contract for their 4,000-member union.

“We have built the reputation the University of Michigan Health System enjoys and we work hard every day to uphold that reputation,” said Katie Oppenheim, president of the U-M nurses union. “…that’s why patients come here from all over the world.”

The nurses, Oppenheim said, want a “fair contract,” with no cuts to benefits.

The nurses are asking for raises, Oppenheim said at a press conference in early August; but neither the nurses union its employer has provided details on the details of the contract dispute.

The two sides disagree over pensions, health-care benefits, paid time off and other items and haven’t resolved the differences in 37 meetings held since negotiations began in April.

The union and the employer called in a state mediator Thursday who will sit down with the sides Tuesday to try to resolve differences.

Friday, UMHS released a statement that noted Saturday’s picket was not a strike, and that the event wouldn’t impact patient care.

But there was some talk of a strike at the event. The the nurses gave no indication they planned to back down during the negotiations.

"We will win this fight," Oppenheim told the crowd.

A registered nurse from the University of Chicago Medical Center told the crowd about her 1,300-hundred member union’s recent contract battle, which included threats of a strike.

“That’s when the administration started listening,” Dawn Peckler told the crowd, to cheers and applause.

University of Michigan Registered Nurses Tiziana Berlasty, right, cheers with other nurses at Saturday's rally.

Hundreds of nurses wore shirts that bore the slogan “Nurses make the Michigan difference.”

Supporters who spoke at the event characterized concessions more broadly, as an attack on the middle class by corporate America and a battle between working families and the wealthy few.

Nurses, they say, are among other labor groups who are being asked to do more for less pay. After about a half hour of speaking, the group marched around the hospital area while chanting support.

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