UVM Medical Nurses and Health Professionals Vote to Strike
A momentous labor decision was made by UVM Nurses to strike against the UVM Medical Center from July 12 through July 13th as a warning shot that grievances for a living wage and safer working conditions be heard. These men and women have endured for years working for wages that cannot cover the overall expenses in daily living. There is also the sheer matter of overwork which induces fatigue, health problems and even depression. All these factors are also induced by the lack of proper safety conditions on the various floors of the hospital, where there is a shortage of staff.
It was the head negotiator for the UVM Nurses’ Union and health Care Workers who stated emphatically “"We're working for the biggest bullies in the state right now," Julie MacMillan said. MacMillan said the planned strike sends the message that "We will not be doormats, we will not be bullied, we are standing up for our rights."[i] When MacMillan used the term “biggest bullies”, she was referring to the corporate leaders of the UVM Medical Center. What must be acknowledged is that there will be labor scabs who are willing to cross the strikers’ picket lines. According to the president and chief operating officer of UVM Medical Center boasted, according to the Burlington Free Press “The hospital has plans to bring in outside nurses to cover the shifts of the nurses on strike. Whalen declined to say how much that would cost, and insisted that "quite a few" nurses have expressed an interest in coming to work in spite of the strike. She couldn't say how many nurses have indicated they would cross the picket line.”[ii] MacMillan countered this threat of those who may not support the strike by stating to the Burlington Free press reporter “… 94 percent of the 1,800 members of the union said "they're ready to walk" by voting to authorize the strike last month.”[iii] The contention comes down to wages. The nurses’ union has signaled over the last few month that their salaries should be on par, or equal with the nurses' salaries at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York, which is also in the University of Vermont Health Network. Another factor is that the cost of living is extremely high in the Burlington area, and the wages the nurses and health care workers make is not enough to survive on in these dire economic times. As the president of the nurses’ union stated to the public "We're just asking for parity within our own network… At least bring us to parity with them. They transfer all their acute patients to us."[iv] This statement “They transfer all their acute patients to us” is the issues of overload of working conditions, and how the leadership of the UVM Medical Center exploits their nurses and health care workers.
The strike by these nurses and health care workers will be watched closely by other unions across the state of Vermont, when it comes to who has the tenacity and will to fight a corporate run hospital.