UnityPoint Health made over $278 million in profits, but executives are refusing to provide frontline workers with the time off they need to recover from the pandemic
WHAT: “Frontline Workers Matter” action with UnityPoint Health employees, community leaders, elected officials
WHEN & WHERE: Thursday, June 3
4:30 pm – Press conference in front of Meriter Hospital, 199-149 S. Brooks St. (at the intersection with Mound St.), Madison, WI
5 pm – Workers and supporters will walk to the intersection of Washington Ave. and S. Park St., where they will hold a banner and signs that say “UnityPoint Health-Meriter: Show Us Frontline Workers Matter” to raise public awareness
Madison, WI- On Thursday, June 3, UnityPoint Health-Meriter service and support employees will be joined by community leaders and elected officials for a “Frontline Workers Matter” action calling for equality and respect. The employees include certified nursing assistants, environmental services workers, engineering mechanics, obstetric techs, dietary workers and others, who have risked their lives and their families’ lives to keep Meriter running during the pandemic. Now the workers are suffering from extreme exhaustion and burn out. But despite massive profits and executive pay, and branding which loudly proclaims “You Matter,” UnityPoint Health is refusing to provide service workers with the same time off as nurses and other employees, so they can recover from the pandemic.
“As an environmental services worker, I sterilize and disinfect the operating room at Meriter to very strict standards, and I’m proud to protect our patients from infection,” said Michael Elvord, who has worked at Meriter for six years. “We’ve always taken our jobs extremely seriously, but during the pandemic, we ratcheted up our vigilance. We hold ourselves accountable to doing our jobs with the highest care, because we know our family members could be next in that room getting a surgery or C-section. We all had a lot of fear about being infected with the virus or bringing it home to loved ones, but we came to work every day and did our jobs. Now we need to replenish ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Quality healthcare delivery takes an entire team, and UnityPoint Health-Meriter needs to show that our whole team matters by treating us with dignity and respect.”
When frontline workers at Meriter were exposed to COVID, they were forced to quarantine and use their own paid time off. Almost a third are either near or below zero with their time off banks, with many going into the “negative” and actually owing the hospital money. Registered nurses were recently able to address this urgent issue by achieving a groundbreaking union contract which provides 60 hours of additional paid time off. Meriter then gave 40 hours of additional paid time off to non-union employees. But when service and support workers requested the same recognition of their sacrifices, executives refused to even discuss the issue until next year. Workers say they are suffering today, and additional paid time off is crucial to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones.
UnityPoint Health-Meriter is extremely financially healthy, and can certainly afford to address workers’ concerns. In 2020, UnityPoint Health made over $278 million in profits, and Meriter Health had over $67 million in profits. UnityPoint Health received more than $74 million in taxpayer bailouts through the Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economy Security Act. In 2019, UnityPoint Health’s CEO received over $2.6 million in compensation, and there’s a long list of top executives raking in large pay packages, many of whom were likely working from the safety of their homes and offices rather than on the front lines.
“We didn’t have the luxury of working from home like UnityPoint Health-Meriter executives,” said Nick Bates, who has been a certified nursing assistant at Meriter for 11 years. “I worked in the screening tent for COVID patients, which is the front line of the front line. I’m proud of the role I played protecting and being of service to our community. But when UnityPoint Health-Meriter refuses to acknowledge our sacrifices, it really feels like a slap in the face. All job titles were there in the hospital, providing care, disinfecting rooms, repairing the ventilation system and cooking nutritious meals. We’re the foundation holding up the entire hospital, so you can’t have all the profits and taxpayer bailouts just going to executives at the top. My coworkers and I are absolutely fried after this really rough year, and many are in the negative with their time off. We just need UnityPoint Health-Meriter executives to recognize our hard work so we can recharge for our physical and mental well-being.”
In addition to the action, workers have launched a website, MeriterShouldShowWorkersMatter.org, which allows the community to email Meriter CEO Sue Erickson, and a series of social media ads. They are vowing to dramatically increase their efforts to shine a bright light on UnityPoint Health’s behavior–including workplace actions, extensive advertising and further outreach to community and elected officials–and will not stop until executives treat them with the equality and respect they have earned.
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin
Media Advisory For: Thursday, June 3 at 4:30 PM
Contact: Dave Bates, 347-865-8038, firstname.lastname@example.org
To Honor National Nurses Week as We Emerge from the Pandemic…
WHAT: Gov. Evers, Mayor Rhodes-Conway, state senators and representatives, clergy, community supporters and essential workers will join registered nurses for “Nurses Week Speak Out”
WHEN: Saturday, May 8 at 11 am
WHERE: State Street entrance to the Wisconsin Capitol, Madison, WI
VISUALS: Nurses in scrubs, standing with top elected officials and holding eye-catching signs calling for a union voice
Media Advisory For: Saturday, May 8 at 11 am
Contact: Dave Bates, email@example.com, 347-865-8038
Janet Veum, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-230-2143
Madison, WI– On Saturday, May 8, scores of Madison-area nurses will gather with Gov. Tony Evers, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, state senators and representatives, clergy and community supporters for a “Nurse Week Speak Out” honoring frontline workers’ sacrifices during the pandemic. Nurses will recount their experiences during the health crisis, and call for a union voice for all essential workers, including those at UW Hospital, so they can advocate effectively for themselves, their families and their patients. Recently, union nurses at Meriter won a groundbreaking contract that addresses urgent problems, and now they are vowing to stand arm-in-arm with their colleagues at UW so they have the same seat at the table.
“The past year has been brutal and traumatic for frontline healthcare providers,” said Mariah Clark, a registered nurse in the UW emergency department with 13 years of service. “During the height of the crisis, COVID patients were flooding in with terrified looks on their faces because they felt like they were drowning. I held iPads up so they could say goodbye to their family members before we intubated them. Then when patients didn’t make it, I held an iPad to inform family members that their loved ones were gone. The pandemic shined a harsh light on all of the deep systemic problems in our country and at our hospital. While my co-workers and I were in the hospital every day desperately doing everything in our power to save lives, too many of us experienced an almost total lack of support from hospital executives and elected officials. They paid lip service by calling us essential heroes, but did not include us in decision-making around staffing, patient safety or protective equipment. The inconsistent and changing guidelines around masks was indicative of the disregard for those of us on the frontlines. In the beginning of the crisis, some nurses were told not to bring our own N95 masks, while others of us had to wear the same N95 mask, shift after shift, for weeks on end. My mask became so soaked with sweat and grime that it became a symbol of just how abandoned we were by those in power.”
During the pandemic, nurses have risked their lives and their families’ lives to provide highly skilled, compassionate care to the community. But they have struggled with a severe lack of support and transparency from hospital administrators and government officials, and non-union nurses have had no meaningful way to address their concerns.
The recent contract that union members achieved at Meriter shows that nurses can solve deeply rooted problems through direct negotiations with management. Their agreement provides additional time off so they can heal, ensures they are fully valued and compensated for their sacrifices, and gives nurses a say in public health emergencies moving forward.
UW nurses say they must have the ability to negotiate a union contract with the administration, just like the Meriter nurses, so they too can address urgent concerns around safe staffing, continuing education, affordable benefits, fair scheduling and quality patient care.
Nurses are calling on employers, including UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority, to recognize their union, and are urging policymakers to ensure collective bargaining rights for all public employees. Nurses are vowing to dramatically ramp up their demand for a union voice, including public actions, social media, advertising and further outreach to elected officials.
“When nurses have a union, we are able to advocate effectively for our patients and ourselves without fear of retaliation,” said Clark. “I want UW to once again lead by setting the highest standards, so the people of our entire state get the quality care they need and deserve.”
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin is the state’s largest and fastest-growing healthcare workers union, and their mission is to win quality care and good jobs for all. They represent over 15,000 hospital, nursing home, home care, and social service workers.
Workers struggle to survive on low wages and now Aspirus wants to raise their healthcare costs and make deep cuts–Meanwhile the corporation raked in huge profits and taxpayer bailouts, and the CEO made over $1.3 million
What: Workers in scrubs will be holding a banner and signs saying “Aspirus Should Value Healthcare Workers” at a busy intersection to raise public awareness. Workers will be available for interviews.
When: Monday, May 3 at 4:30 pm
Where: 8th Street & East Riverview Expressway, Wisconsin Rapids
Wisconsin Rapids, WI– On Monday, May 3, healthcare workers and their families will gather at a busy intersection holding a large banner and signs that declare “Aspirus Should Value Healthcare Workers.” The public action is geared toward raising awareness in the community about Aspirus’s proposals to significantly increase healthcare costs for frontline workers and make other cuts, while the corporation has raked in massive profits and taxpayer bailouts, and compensated the CEO with over $1.3 million.
During the pandemic, Aspirus workers have been risking their lives and their families’ lives to provide quality, compassionate care to their community, and many were infected by COVID. They say that Aspirus’s actions reflect one of the most destructive trends in America–lavishly rewarding top executives while essential workers struggle to survive–and are contrary to Wisconsin values.
“I’ve cared for COVID patients at Aspirus Riverview Hospital throughout the pandemic, and got deathly sick with the virus myself,” said Heather Michels, a certified nursing assistant who has eight years of service at the hospital, and over two decades of experience as a healthcare professional. “This has been the most terrifying time of my career. Despite all my sacrifices, Aspirus only pays me $15.26 an hour, and they want to increase employees’ health insurance costs and make other cuts. Working through this health crisis has been especially scary as I have a daughter who is immuno-compromised and an infant son. When I got sick, I had to send them away to live with family, because my oxygen levels dropped dangerously low, I developed pneumonia and could barely get out of bed. Many of my co-workers at Aspirus were also infected by COVID, but we’ve remained loyal and stuck with the hospital because we pride ourselves on giving the best care to our community. Aspirus should acknowledge the loyalty and hard work of frontline healthcare workers.
While essential workers are struggling, Aspirus had huge profits of more than $184 million for the fiscal year ending last June, and Riverview’s profits were over $22 million for the same period. Many Aspirus executives were working from the safety of their homes or offices, rather than on the front lines, but earning large pay packages at the “non-profit.” The CEO, Matt Heywood had total compensation of more than $1.3 million in 2019, the most recent year that IRS data is available. Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Aspirus received more than $52 million in bailouts from taxpayers. Workers say they want to make sure that taxpayer dollars are going to patient care and the employees who actually work on the front lines, not just giant executive pay packages.
“When people ask me what I do for work I tell them, ‘I save lives every single day,’ because as an environmental services specialist, I clean and disinfect Aspirus Riverview Hospital to keep patients safe,” said Sarah Vonloh, who has 29 years of service at the hospital. “Working during the pandemic has really taken a physical and mental toll on myself and my coworkers, and we’re exhausted. Despite our important roles, we don’t feel like Aspirus executives understand or appreciate our work. After almost three decades, I still only make $15.89 an hour, and am forced to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m always scraping by, figuring out how to afford groceries, gas and all my bills. Meanwhile, Aspirus executives are getting big pay packages, even though they’re not on the front lines and in the patient rooms like we are. We’ve given so much to our hospital, working weekends and holidays throughout this health crisis. I feel like these shamefully low wages are immoral and a slap in the face to me, my coworkers, and all working families in our community.”
In recent union contract negotiations with nursing assistants, environmental service specialists, dietary workers and laundry workers who are members of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Aspirus executives have demanded a range of cuts to compensation and benefits. Their proposals include significantly increasing the amount that employees pay for the Aspirus-run health plan. Executives have also demanded to cut medical leave; increase dental insurance costs; and even take away Christmas Eve holiday pay for many workers. Instead of rewarding employees with a decade or more of service, Aspirus is proposing just a one percent raise, which would not be implemented until December.
Recently an overwhelming majority of workers voted to reject Aspirus’s contract offer and signed onto a letter to CEO Matt Heywood calling on him to listen to their concerns. Workers expressed their fears that these drastic cuts could increase employee turnover and worsen understaffing in departments throughout the hospital. They pointed out that Aspirus’s own mission statement focuses on “strengthening communities,” but low wages and benefit cuts–while top executives get more and more wealthy–undermine working families throughout the community.
Workers earnestly hope that management will come to a fair agreement when they return to contract negotiations on May 5th. If not, employees vow to hold Asprirus executives accountable through increasing actions, advertising, social media and extensive outreach to community members, faith leaders, regulatory agencies and elected officials.
Congratulations! The tentative agreement the SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin @Oakwood bargaining committee negotiated was ratified today by union members at Oakwood. This was not easy as management began negotiations offering 0.5% wage increases. You had tremendous support from local allies and importantly from the faith community that stood with you. All of you signing that petition to the CEO mattered. Next summer, you will begin negotiations again — the almost 20 Oakwood employees that became members during the past couple weeks helps build your power for a better deal next time too. As previously announced, other provisions in the agreement are:
Please talk with our bargaining team members if you have questions: Virgie Burton, UW; Kirsten McKee, PR; Dan Meyer, UW; Tammy Schutz, UW; Jeff Urshlitz, UW
It will take a little time to prepare, proof-read, sign and print new contracts. As soon as they are ready, they will be posted to www.seiuhcwi.org and distributed.
Union members at Oakwood will meet together with Oakwood management on Thursday, 3/18 at 4pm to discuss workplace concerns and find solutions. The January meeting helped improve communications with supervisors in some departments and we advocated for improved reporting if working through breaks. Do you have concerns you think you want discussed with management? contact a bargaining team member, a union steward or contact Scott at 608-225-4291.
Stewards are union members that help coworkers understand their contract, give help filing a grievance if the union contract is violated and help co-workers act together with power to make jobs better. In the past month, 2 Oakwood employees have said that they would like to become stewards. Would you be interested in learning to become a steward too? contact Scott at 608-225-4291.
The next steward training is scheduled 5:30pm-7:30pm Wednesday, 3/24. Click HERE for a 2021 trainings schedule.
Share this message with co-workers that didn’t receive it. Get Connected to SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin here, complete this form: www.bit.ly/ConnectHCWI
To become a member of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Sign-up here: www.bit.ly/JoinSEIUHCWI Everyone is Stronger Together!
in person VoteWednesday, March 10 6:30am-5:30pm
Tabor Conference Room
Or Virtually: bit.ly/OakwdVirtRatifiVT21
in person Vote Thursday, March 11 6:30am-5:30pm
Oak Canyon Conference Room
Or Virtually: bit.ly/OakwdVirtRatifiVT21
To review tentative agreements virtually using ZOOM before casting a confidential secret electronic ballot using the on-line vote tool ELECTION BUDDY, please visit bit.ly/OakwdVirtRatifiVT21 between 6:30am – 5:30pm on Wednesday, 3/10 or Thursday, 3/11.
Come at any time during the above times that fits your schedule including breaks/lunch, before/after your shift — stay as long as you are able.
Copies of the Tentative Agreement will be available for review. Bargaining Team members will be present to answer questions.
Send the union bargaining team back to the bargaining table
FOR A FAIR SLICE TO
SOLVE THE STAFFING CRISIS AT OAKWOOD
Union contract negotiations continue Thursday, March 4th and Friday, March 5th. If you are interested in observing negotiations via zoom (phone or video), please call/text Scott at 608-225-4291.
Tell the bargaining team to keep up the good work: Virgie Burton, UW; Kirsten McKee, PR; Dan Meyer, UW; Tammy Schutz, UW; Jeff Urschlitz, UW
Sign the petition calling for an Oakwood Healthcare Heroes Wage package for all — Sign/Circulate Support Petition: bit.ly/SupportOakwoodHeroes
Please share this message with co-workers that didn’t receive it. Get Connected to SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin here, complete this form: www.bit.ly/ConnectHCWI
To become a member of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, Sign-up here: www.bit.ly/JoinSEIUHCWI Everyone is Stronger Together!
This holiday season in a year unlike any before it, we recognize that healthcare workers are still in the thick of this crisis, without adequate protection or support. We know most of you are feeling the same stress, frustration, and fatigue as we are. And so, we wanted to share a special project that is giving us hope: Between The (Front) Lines, a zine written by the SEIU HCWI member political organizers (MPOs).
We wrote this zine to capture our experience and our successes as MPOs, as we trained and organized to engage and turn out healthcare workers this election, and to build political and worker power in the long term.
Taking stock of this year, we must not only honor those we have lost and the sacrifices so many of us have made, but also, the ways we have stood with and for each other.
This zine is dedicated to everyone fighting on the front lines. We hope these writings (and art and poetry) bring you a sense of hope, connection, and a little light to brighten the darkness.
MPOs Femi Agbongbon, CNA and PCW in Milwaukee
And Lisa Gordon, CNA at a nursing home in Monroe
We are stronger as one voice speaking with Oakwood management. Together as SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, we talk about and advocate for fair pay, good benefits, safety and great jobs. The contract we reached with Oakwood management a few years ago expires early next year.
We are starting preparations for a new agreement about our wages, benefits and working conditions at Oakwood. Nominate who you think will best represent you and your co-workers to the bargaining team. Nominations must be received by 5pm on Thursday, October 15th. Bargaining team elections are October 20th and will be held in a virtual meeting to be announced.
Nominate yourself to be on the bargaining team.
Our bargaining team needs your help — join the contract action team to help keep co-workers together to amplify our voices.
How do you think your job could be improved? Are you satisfied with how residents receive care? Your voice matters in our effort. We are more successful with you. You should complete this survey about your job, how you are paid and what could be improved.
Oakwood employees have already started talking about changes and improvements they’d like to make to their jobs. Share your ideas too!
If you have not received e-mail or gotten text messages, Stay connected to SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin HERE. Share this message with your co-workers!
Become an SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin Member or help a coworker become a member HERE.
Oakwood employees have worked hard to raise the standard for good jobs as long term care workers and have the power together to make jobs safer and even better with you part of the effort.