Sault Ste. Marie nurses strike for five days

Submitted by ADonahue on
Nurses on strike line holding signs "Unfair Labor Practice Strike"

By Amelia Dornbush

National Nurse magazine - April | May | June 2024 Issue

The small community of Sault Ste. Marie got a giant dose of nurse power recently as Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) members at the hospital went on a robust five-day unfair labor practice strike.

After months of contract negotiations and a unanimous strike authorization vote, nurse leaders called the strike to protest what they see as anti-union behavior by executives and to demand a fair contract. 

“This is our first negotiation since MyMichigan bought our community hospital, and there is a clear difference,” said Colleen Waucaush, RN, president of the MNA local at the hospital. “There’s a corporate feel that emphasizes making money over taking care of patients. As nurses, we feel a responsibility to be on the front lines not just in care but also in advocacy. We’re fighting back for our patients and our community.” 

The hospital, MyMichigan Medical Center Sault (pronounced “Soo”), is owned by a chain headquartered in the Lower Peninsula; the Soo nurses are on the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. The motto of “Save Our Soo” (S.O.S.) has resonated, with the fear that the hospital will not survive if it continues to insist on paying nurses so much less than at other MyMichigan and U.P. hospitals. Nurses say the resulting short staffing is jeopardizing patient care. 

“This is our hospital, our community, and we’re striking to show MyMichigan executives in Midland that we won’t let them give the Soo second-class treatment,” said Audra Farnsworth, RN. “Their contract offer would only drive away more nurses because we would have to pay hundreds of dollars for health insurance every month which would wipe out any raise. They just spent $10 million on a new computer system here and bought three other hospitals, but they refuse to work with us on a fair contract that will recruit and retain nurses in the Soo.”

MNA has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against MyMichigan, including alleging that they surveilled the nurses during their informational picket, went after the union president for engagement in protected union activity, and are failing to bargain in good faith. 

Participation in the 24/7 strike was strong, as the nurses maintained good spirits through cold, rain, and snow. They were buoyed by messages of support and visits by fellow MNA nurses around the state, as well as patients, doctors, and other labor leaders. Donations of everything from coffee to pizzas poured into the strike line daily, with more than 50 individuals and businesses contributing. 

Nurses agree that the strike has only brought them closer together and fortified their commitment to hold MyMichigan executives accountable and achieve a strong contract. 

“I feel like as a union we just continue to grow stronger; this is the strongest our union has ever been,” said Twyla Niznik, RN. “We’re not going to let MyMichigan divide us and tear us apart. This strike has been about us fighting together as a team and teaching our children it’s okay to stand up for what’s right. We just want to protect our families, protect our community, protect our profession, protect our patients. Ultimately that’s what our union is all about.”