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
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.