Labor, unions — October 5, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Marquette nurses on strike to protest understaffing, unsafe patient & nursing conditions, and no contract


Nurses at UP Health System in Marquette, Michigan – run by Duke LifePoint – went on strike today to protest understaffing that has led to unsafe conditions for patients at the facility as well as the nurses who work there. In addition, they are demanding that the administrators of the facility begin bargaining with them in good faith on a labor contract. The nurses at UPHS, who are represented by the Michigan Nurses Association, have been working without a contract since July 28th.

In a statement, Scott Balko, an Operating Room RN and President of the UPHS Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA, explained why the nurses have been forced to strike:

We have said all along that striking is an extremely serious decision for nurses. We want to be at the bedside caring for our patients. Duke LifePoint has made it all but impossible to provide the care that the Marquette community deserves … Now is the time for Duke LifePoint to do the right thing for patients – guarantee safe RN staffing levels and a hospital environment that will attract and retain nurses for years to come.

Balko went further in an interview with Crain’s Detroit Business:

Our contract was for four years, but this is the first one with the new for-profit owner,” Balko said. “We didn’t know what we would get into or how negotiations would go. They are very slow and not much is taking place. It has been a roadblock since day one.” […]

“We don’t have the number of nurses to do the job. They are working longer shifts and putting patients in unsafe conditions,” Balko said. “There are no regulations on hours for nurses like there are for truck drivers.”

DePetro said the hospital has told the union there is a nursing shortage and no other nurses are available. She said, however, for every two nurses who are hired, three leave.

“There are enough nurses around with the nursing schools (and in other jobs), but they don’t want to come to the hospital because of the working conditions,” Balko said.

I have said many times before that there are at least four areas where a for-profit model should be dead on arrival: Education, prisons, national defense, and healthcare. These nurses literally save lives on a daily basis. In addition, they comfort those who are ill and injured and make their time in the hospital as bearable as possible. They should be treated accordingly, not as if they were an “expense” to minimized to protect the profit margin of the facility’s owner.

Nurses at UPHS sent a letter to Duke University drawing attention to how the facility is harming the University’s image and betraying their mission statement:

September 26, 2017

To the Honorable Duke University Board of Trustees,

As the governing body of both the University and Duke University Health System, you should be aware of that one of your affiliated hospitals is damaging the reputation of your institution.

In 2012, the sale of Marquette General Hospital was approved, creating UPHS Marquette. This hospital is owned by Duke LifePoint, a partnership between Duke University Health System and the for-profit corporation LifePoint Health.

This past August, Marquette nurses delivered a report documenting more than 780 patient care consequences from inadequate or unsafe RN assignments to the state of Michigan. Misplaced Priorities: The Deteriorating Condition of Safe Patient Care at Duke LifePoint Upper Peninsula Health System-Marquette is available online, and includes only incidents from 2017.

Before and after the report, Marquette nurses have negotiated in good faith with Duke Lifepoint. They are seeking a contract to ensure safe nurse staffing, as well as to attract and retain enough skilled RNs to serve their northern Michigan community.

Thus far, the hospital administration has refused to meaningfully address safety and staffing concerns. Without a breakthrough at the bargaining table, a two-day strike is scheduled for October 5 and 6.

According to your mission statement, Duke University seeks “to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health, through sophisticated medical research and thoughtful patient care,” as well as to “stimulate the best effort of all who are associated with the University; to contribute in diverse ways to the local community, the state, the nation and the world; and to attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.”

Therefore, we call on the Duke Board of Trustees to intervene on behalf of patients and the community by publicly urging Duke Lifepoint to negotiate a fair contract including safe staffing levels with nurses at UP Health System – Marquette.

Please feel free to contact us with questions and let us know how you plan to respond. More information is available at

It’s time for Duke University to lay down the law on Duke LifePoint and compel them to take the appropriate steps to solve this entirely solvable problem. And if that cuts into Duke LifePoint’s profit margin, so be it. The well-being of the UPHS’s patients and the men and women who care for them day after day is far more important than any corporation’s bottom line.

For updates as the strike progresses, follow the Michigan Nurses Association at @MINurses on Twitter.