The University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority Board did not voluntarily recognize the UW nurses’ union despite a resolution from the Dane County Board of Supervisors asking UWHCA to recognize the union.

In a closed-door meeting Feb. 27, UWHCA Board decided not to recognize the union. Nurses and members of the County Board were unhappy with the decision.

Supervisor Yogesh Chawla, District 6, introduced the resolution to the County Board Jan. 24. Chawla said the County Board is disappointed in the UWHCA Board’s decision to not voluntarily recognize the union.

“We feel if they recognized the union that patients will get better care, there’ll be a better working environment and we can keep UW Hospital a world-class hospital,” Chawla said.

Nurses in the union were also upset with the decision. Mariah Clark, an emergency department nurse at University Hospital, is one of the nurses gathering support for the union and pushing for recognition.

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Clark said the decision to unionize came from a myriad of issues that did not allow nurses to give the quality of care they want to patients. One of the biggest issues is the patient-nurse ratios at the hospital, according to Clark. Supervisor Hayley Young, District 5, said another major issue for nurses at UW system hospitals is the lack of hours dedicated to training new staff members.

“What made us primarily start talking about [unionizing] was noticing the trend of the institution more towards expansion and profits over people,” Clark said. “When we felt like we were being asked to do more with less, consistently, and we wanted to be able to continue to provide the exceptional care UW was known for, that’s when people started talking.”

Eventually, the nurses brought their concerns to the County Board. Supervisor Young said the resolution had overwhelming support from the County Board when it was brought to session Jan. 24.

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Young said the resolution was mainly used to show support for the union, since the County Board has no authority over UWHCA.

“What we can do is express support and show that the [County] Board is behind this group,” Young said.

The resolution called on the UWHCA Board to voluntarily recognize the union, meet and confer with UW nurses, and return to a just cause and Weingarten rights that used to be available to UW nurses. According to the SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin website, meet and confer allows nurses to weigh in on the decisions that affect them and their patients. Weingarten rights grant the right to have union representation at any interview or meeting that could lead to disciplinary action, according to NOLO’s legal encyclopedia.

Clark said the union was only asking for what UWHCA could legally give them. Clark said the union wanted a voice in the decisions and activities of UW Health. The first step toward that goal is voluntary recognition from UWHCA.

“When we have a union, we have a real voice where we can be treated as equals in the decision-making process to ensure the best possible care,” Clark said.

UW Health spokesperson Tom Russell said Act 10 prevents UWHCA from collective bargaining with the union. But Clark and Chawla said Act 10 does not prevent the UWHCA Board from voluntarily recognizing the union. Despite being able to voluntarily recognize the union, the UWHCA Board voted not to.

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Chawla said the UWHCA Board’s decision was not unanimous, but because it took place in a closed-door session it is unknown which UWHCA Board members are in support of the union. Chawla said county supervisors believe these decisions should not be made in closed-door session.

“We feel really strongly that, particularly with a public entity, that it’s vitally important for them to conduct their business in the public because the taxpayers are the ones who are supporting the operation and mission of a hospital and it serves our community,” Chawla said.

Chawla said the County Board is disappointed the UWHCA Board is not being transparent and conducting their business in public.

Chawla said support for the union is high, both within the community and government. Chawla expects more governmental bodies and officials will come out soon in support of the union.

Despite deciding not to voluntarily recognize the union, UWHCA Board members expressed their desire to work together to develop plans and create solutions for employee issues in a press release. Clark said the nurses will continue to push until they get the voluntary recognition they deserve from the UWHCA Board.

“What we are asking for is the best thing for the patients, the best thing for families, the best thing for the staff, and ultimately the best thing for the hospital, even if they only want to look at it as a business,” Clark said.