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Nurses in Sault Ste. Marie vote to authorize a potential strike

Nurses, community members, and supports all rally in front of the MyMichigan Medical Center Sault in support of the nurses keeping their wages.
Courtesy photo.
Michigan Nurses Association
Unionized nurses organized an informational picket in front of the MyMichigan Medical Center Sault on March 12, 2024.

Editors Note: This story was updated on March 22, 2024 to include a statement from MyMichigan Health.

Nurses at the MyMichigan Medical Center in Sault Ste. Marie voted Tuesday, March 19 to allow their bargaining team to call for a strike.

The announcement comes following 12 rounds of failed negotiations on a new contract that seeks to remedy what the Michigan Nurses Association characterized as "unfair labor practices." Their previous agreement expired at the end of the year.

Nurses are demanding increased wages on par with other MyMichigan hospitals throughout the state, better benefits and the ability for union workers to cash out their unused paid time off.

Brittany Barrett, a nurse at the Medical Center, said it’s been difficult to hire and retain staff. But she said better wages under a new contract may help the issue.

“I’ve seen a huge amount of turnover in the nurses that we have,” Barrett said. “We have been seeing increases in wait times. We haven’t been able to admit as many patients to our inpatient floor because we just don’t have enough staff to care for the patients.”

According to a release from the Michigan Nurses Association, the hospital has not offered the association or a federal mediator with a negotiation date before April 18.

Kevin Kalchik, the president of MyMichigan Medical Center Sault, released a statement on Thursday, March 21 in response to news of the vote.

Kalchik stated MyMichigan has offered increased wages and better health and welfare benefits during labor negotiations with its nurses.

Barrett said the hospital has proposed an 18% increase in wages. However, she said this raise would not compensate for the rising healthcare and insurance expenses. She said some nurses could experience a decrease in their overall earnings due to these factors.

If a strike is called, Barrett said hospital operations will not shut down and patients would not see an immediate impact.

"The hospital would be given a ten day notice before anything would happen. So, they would have ample time to bring in nurses to cover for us while we were on strike," Barrett said.

In his statement, Kalchik advised against a strike.

“We respect our nurses’ rights, including their right to strike,” he said. “However, we do not believe that a strike would benefit our nurses, our patients, or this community. A strike or the threat of a strike is not going to change MyMichigan’s approach at the bargaining table.”

Kalchik states MyMichigan’s commitment to its proposal is aimed at ensuring the sustainability of its services in the long term and that MyMichigan is working to complete the contract negotiation process as soon as possible

In the interest of transparency, we note that MyMichigan Health is a financial supporter of WCMU.

Renae is a newsroom intern covering northwest Lower Michigan for WCMU.