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The Labor War Between UVMMC Nurses and UVM Medical Center

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There is a class war that is emerging between the hundreds of Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals and their corporate adversaries who have chosen to keep health workers strapped to slave-wage conditions.  According to a pamphlet distributed by ALLIANCE IN SUPPORT OF UVM MC NURSES “Vermont should not be a low-wage state. Vermont is 47th in nurses’ wages when cost of living is considered and the union’s $15 minimum wage demand for support staff is an important step toward a living wage for all Vermont workers”. I would say that even this modest demand for $15 an hour wage will be difficult for nurses and health care workers to live on in the immediate area of Burlington, Vermont.It was with this hash fact of the actual living conditions of the nurses at UVM Medical Center that I carried in my thought, as I approached the protest gathering that was held on July 28th off the grounds of the UVM Medical Center.

The Labor War Between UVMMC Nurses and UVM Medical Center

One of the so-called ‘progressive states’ in the Union actually has one of the highest costs of living standards in the United States. According to one online site that monitors such issues “The overall cost of living in Vermont is 16% higher than the national average. That can be broken down into more specific categories, groceries are 11.% higher, health costs are only 5% higher, housing is 27% higher, utilities are 29% higher, and transportation is 7% higher.”[i] This overview of cost of living is based on a real-estate brokerage that is not stationed in Vermont, but in California!  Therefore, what would that corporate brokerage firm know about the actual lives of nurses, health care workers and their daily struggles to live in Vermont?  In another of a rationalizing assessment they wrote “The unemployment rate in Vermont is low, at 3.7%, and the majority of careers in Vermont are in management, business, finance, sales, office, or administrative support. Many of these are professional services such as web design, architecture, law, and healthcare among others.” [ii]  This last phrase “healthcare among others” is the most deceiving of so-called facts of understanding the“professional services”, which are under constant economic anxiety, which means wage and safety discrimination in Burlington, Vermont. The nurses at UVM do not make a living wage compared to other nurses who work within and outside the state of Vermont. This is the enormous struggle that the nurses of UVM are waging day after day, week after week in their professional fight for their economic rights, and their own families’ struggles to survive in the Green Mountain State.

The Labor War Between UVMMC Nurses and UVM Medical Center

In the balmy summer, late afternoon, I saw many nurses and health care workers, both women and women, wearing their red T-shirts and holding up protest signs, as cars passed by, and the drivers honked their horns loudly in support of these vibrant health care workers.  It was not lost to me that this could be the beginning of a deeper protest after the first week of July, if the nurses’ union and the administration leaders of UVM Medical Center do not agree on more humane wages, more secure safe staffing and the recognition of dignity for the nurses and health professionals in general by the executives of UVM Medical Center. 

The Labor War Between UVMMC Nurses and UVM Medical Center

Among the health care workers standing on the sidewalk on Colchester Avenue across from the McClure Emergency Entrance at UVM Medical Center, I had the privilege to interview Chelsea Cordner, an RNBC (Registered Nurse/Board Certified) and union leader, who spoke with keen intelligence and astuteness that I found profoundly moving. We both spoke between us about the physical and psychological hardships of the nurses and how in the long run it not only affected the way they perceived their work, but how it actually could ruin their health. Then Chelsea said to me with candor that the whole protest and even possible strike was “More about safe staffing and having appropriate staffing, so that our nurses can take on more diligently the acuity of our patients.”  This very intelligent nurse used the term or word “acuity” on purpose, as it was a signal that sharpness or keenness of thought which includes vision, or hearing, is crucial in relating to hospital patients. The economic wellbeingof the nurses is one of the main links between the nurse and patient, so that they, the nurses,can perform their duties with acuity while meeting the needs of their patients.  Without that professional “acuity” the medical activity between the nurse, the health care worker and the patient is lost.

I will quote in full the formal text that was on the Facebook page of the Alliance In Support of UVMMC NURSES in which their grievances our laid out boldly and without fear of confrontation:

The Labor War Between UVMMC Nurses and UVM Medical Center

At last night's second-to-last scheduled bargaining session, management left us sitting for 90 minutes while they came up with a package of proposals that they said were aimed at achieving agreement on everything still under contention. The package was prefaced by a clause they would withdraw the entire proposal if/when the union announced a notice to strike. It was an extremely aggressive move, especially because the package of proposals was almost identical to everything they've already proposed. No real movement on any of the key issues. We rejected this "conditional" proposal, and said we wouldn't negotiate it unless they removed the strike clause, so they changed it to say that their proposals expire at midnight Thursday if we haven't reached an agreement.

We can only conclude that they are trying to force us to strike.[iii]

In the coming days, we shall see how the UVMMMC Nurses emerge with their justified protests of their overall economic ill treatment and the lack of respect shown by the corporate executives of the UVM Medical Center towards them. As Chelsea Cordner, the nurse, so brilliantly made me understand that the nurses’ “acuity” of responsible nursing towards patients is tied to the economic community at large in Vermont.The Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals made a momentous decision as a unanimous “YES vote by the bargaining team to give 10 day notice of an “unfair labor practice strike” on Monday.  The nurses and professional health care workers have proved their mettle to stand their ground.


[i]https://www.movoto.com/guide/vt/cost-of-living-in-vermont-how-does-it-stack-up-against-the-average-salary/

[ii] Ibid. 

[iii]https://www.facebook.com/Alliance-in-Support-of-UVMMC-Nurses-197413314236205/

Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina