Sen. Tammy Baldwin joins UW nurses in call for staff retention, safety, quality patient care

One year after an historic agreement reestablished a union voice at UW Health, Sen. Tammy Baldwin will join nurses to call for urgent steps to ensure retention, safe staffing, and quality patient care. The event marks the first time that nurses are speaking out publicly about their growing concerns around patient safety since the agreement was reached by UW Health and the nurses’ union in September of last year. In particular, nurses are increasingly concerned that long-time, experienced staff are leaving UW Health in droves due to unjust wage caps, leading to a drain of experience, skills, and institutional knowledge.

Under the labor-management agreement, hundreds of nurses have signed up to become union members, and nurse leaders have been meeting directly with top administrators through a process called “Meet and Discuss” to address critical issues, but nurses say that UW Health executives have refused to resolve issues in that process.

Because of turnover of longtime nurses, recently graduated nurses are in some cases being left to train new nurses and care for acutely ill, medically complex patients. Nurses have begun documenting their safety concerns and intend to file them with regulatory authorities if they are not solved quickly.

They say that it is critically necessary to create a transparent pay scale that rewards all nurses fairly — especially veteran nurses — which is standard for union health care workers, including at Meriter Hospital. While many nurses’ wages have been capped, UW Health’s operating revenue has soared to $4.4 billion, cash on hand has topped $1 billion, and profits have hit $273 million, causing frustrations to boil over. Nurses say that raising the wage caps would elevate UW Health as a whole by setting high standards for nursing.

In August of last year, nurses voted by 99% to hold a three-day strike for recognition. Gov. Tony Evers brought both parties together to facilitate mediation and reached the historic agreement, averting the strike.

The agreement states that UW Health and the nurses’ union “intend to work together to address critical challenges and issues facing the nursing profession at UWHCA [University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority] in order to promote the highest quality of patient care, retention, and recruitment of skilled professional nurses, and highest job satisfaction of UWHCA registered nurses.” Despite that clear language and intent, nurses say that UW Health has refused to live up to the spirit of the agreement.