Madison alders pass unanimous resolution backing UW Health nurses’ union

By: - September 23, 2021 10:28 am

Nurses prepare to speak at an event Sept. 3 organized by Madison alders to call on UW Health to agree to a union election for nurses. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

A Madison Common Council resolution calling for a “fair and fast union election” by the end of 2021 for nurses at UW Health garnered unanimous approval from the body this week.

The vote, conducted by acclamation Tuesday night, followed testimony from several nurses who support unionization at UW Hospital and Clinics. The resolution was introduced Aug. 31.

Launched in 2019, the union organizing drive was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, but nurses who support the union effort have said the pandemic itself reinforced their concerns about scheduling, worker safety and the opportunity for their voices to be heard in setting policies that affect patient care.

UW Health representatives have maintained that the system fosters collaboration through a “shared governance” system that incorporates participation from employees, including nurses. Nurses who have joined the union effort, however, have said that their most important concerns have been ignored and that the participatory system is superficial.

UW Health employees had been represented by various unions for several decades, and their right to collective bargaining was enshrined in state law when the health care system was formally separated from the University of Wisconsin. The collective bargaining guarantee was part of legislation that created the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority, the corporate entity that now operates UW Health.

The collective bargaining guarantee was deleted as part of Act 10, the 2011 law signed by then-Gov. Scott Walker that stripped most collective bargaining rights from state and local public employees in Wisconsin.

A recent legal analysis by a lawyer on behalf of the union, however, argues that nothing in Act 10 forbids collective bargaining at UW Health — only that the original guarantee is no longer in place. While Act 10 placed strict limits on what public employees could bargain over and how their unions could operate, UW Health employees are not public employees under state law, according to this analysis, and state law is now silent regarding bargaining rights at the hospital system.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.