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MichUHCAN Newsletter January 2001


On Strike: Flint's McLaren Nurses Take a Stand for Patient Care

by Jane Slaughter

"Nurses know that after their fourteenth or fifteenth hour, they're questioning their judgment," says Mary Robinson, a nurse for 30 years. Robinson is one of 600 Flint nurses who've been on strike for more than six weeks against mandatory overtime at McLaren Regional Medical Center, Flint's premier hospital. At McLaren, says the nurses' union, it's not unusual for management to schedule RNs for 16-hour days.

Dawning Trend

The Flint nurses' stand is part of a dawning national trend for nurses to resist the long hours that, they say, threaten patient well-being. In April the American Nurses Association (ANA) issued a consumer alert about hospitals' spreading tendency to use mandatory overtime as a normal staffing mechanism. "Patients need nurses who are able to execute the sophisticated thinking, decision-making, and technical skills required in delivering quality patient care," said ANA President Mary Foley.

According to Alan Napier, an intensive care nurse at McLaren and president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 875, management is offering arbitration on the overtime issue. But, says Napier, members view this as a stalling tactic. "These nurses refuse to go back to work till we get language on mandatory overtime," Napier says.

Bernie Hoffmann, senior vice-president for corporate services for the McLaren Health Care Corporation, which includes three hospitals and 90 outpatient facilities in eight counties, says that nurses' mandatory overtime from April through August was less than half of one percent of hours worked.

That's only if you ignore hours worked "on call," says Mary Robinson - hours which are also mandatory. Robinson works 3-11:30 pm in the recovery room, but, she says, "they don't have a third shift so they put you on call for eight hours after your shift. We can work sixteen hours and then be expected to be back the next day at 3." Or a day shift nurse might be told to start work at 11 pm the night before.

Nurses' organizations emphasize that the long hours they object to come about not because of emergencies but because management prefers overtime to hiring more staff. According to Napier, McLaren's director of nursing has said it makes "better business sense" to use the on-call system than to hire more nurses-and pay more in benefits.

Suzanne Gordon, author of From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public, has studied the nursing profession for years. She says management's use of overtime is "conscious, a whole new way of dealing with staffing a unit...I can't think of another group of professionals that are subjected to these kinds of demands." Gordon adds, "Of course, these are women, who have a second shift to do once they get home."

In addition, says Gordon, nurses are working harder every hour they're on the floor. Because insurance companies and HMOs have cut back on reimbursements, patient stays are shorter and patients' needs are more acute.

McLaren Vice-president Hoffmann acknowledges that "there are few nurses that want to be a staff nurse till they're 65."

Of course, as any auto worker can testify, overtime is a runaway phenomenon not only in health care. "It's happening in every industry you can think of," says California Nurses Association President Kay McVay. "But in this one if you're tired and you make a mistake, it can mean a life."

Support

On December 4 over a thousand supporters joined the Flint nurses for a rally outside the hospital. Auto workers' locals have taken up gate collections-one big GM local netted over $5,000-and planned "adopt-a-family" funds for Christmas. The traditional sign of support from passing motorists-the honk-is so constant that the nurses have asked supporters to "simply flash your headlights after 8 pm so that we disturb the neighbors as little as possible."

To contribute, send a check to Local 875 RN Strike Fund, PO Box 4160, Flint, MI 48504. Visit for more information.

[A version of this story appeared in the Metro Times.]


Detroit Chapter Mtg:

Thurs Jan 4, 7:30pm

Discussion: Review of U2K, Plans for 2001

Place: First United Methodist Church of Berkley

12 Mile Road, two blocks west of Coolidge; park in the lot on the west side, enter from Kipling, east side


Health Care Referenda Win

Non-binding referenda on universal health care sponsored by the Labor Party's Just Health Care Campaign won big in four state districts in November.

In Alachua County, Florida, which includes Gainesville, a Labor Party referendum got 64.5% of the vote - more than any candidate save one. The measure calls for universal health care and for replacing insurance companies with a public fund. It was endorsed by the local NAACP, the central labor council (AFL-CIO), and six unions, along with other organizations and hundreds of individuals.

"We're saying to the winner of the state senate seat: 'More people voted for this than voted for you. Now, what are you going to do about it?" said Alachua County Labor Party co-chair Jenny Brown.

Health care referenda also won in three state districts of Massachusetts: in western Massachusetts, in Weymouth, and in Chelsea/East Boston. The referenda calling for universal health care gained 58% to 59%, bringing to six the number of Massachusetts districts that have endorsed Just Health Care.

[Information in this article comes from "Labor Party Press," the newsletter of the Labor Party. For more information visit or phone 202-234-5190.]