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UVM Medical Center Nurses Strike and It’s Consequences
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Photo: Luis Lázaro Tijerina

UVM Medical Center Nurses Strike and It’s Consequences

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THE NURESES WENT ON STRIKE THIS MORNING. There were hundreds of them in their red shirts, as they held their picket signs in the summer air. The enthusiasm and spontaneous march was well planned, and the leadership that spoke to the nurses and other professional health care workers, before they began the strike march off the grounds to the main entrance of the UVM Medical Center, was inspiring to witness.The UVM nurses’ strike is not only profoundly serious for Burlington, but for the state of Vermont in general. Although there is great sympathy for the nurses, this strike will be an important test for the leadership of the nurses and health care workers’ union.  Is the union’s leadership willing to be hard in their negotiations with the corporate leadership of the UVM Medical Center, or will they ‘compromise’ in a way which they will get little for the amount of time, effort, and loss of wages that was sacrificed in the strike in the first place? Of the 1,800 nurses in the union, 600 nurses are not participating in the strike. But the amount of nurses not participating in the strike has not been officially verified. However, there is a reportage on a comment by one of the leaders of the striking nurses in which it was stated “Julie MacMillan said 94 percent of the 1,800 members of the union said "they're ready to walk" by voting to authorize the strike last month.”[i]  This can also be seen as creditable, even though there are no factual numbers that have been given to the press with can be authenticated. Are the reason for many nurses not joining the strike one of economic necessity to work in order to help feed their families and take care of other economic necessities, or is it that they have differences in the way the leadership is implementing the strike?  At this time, there are no answers to such a question about some nurses have at this stage decided not to join the strike at UMV Medical Center. What is a reality is that the strike has begun and the consequences will be enormous for not only the nurses’ wellbeing, but the strike will also have a lasting political history on labor issues and labor integrity in Vermont.

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

One of the nurses who voted to strike, Samira Lawson, a labor and delivery nurse, admitted "The majority of nurses don't have any confidence in our leadership. That's a really bad place to be when we have to work with these people”, while at the same time saying with anguish to the Burlington Free Press reporter "Unfortunately, something like this is necessary to change the culture of what is happening in the hospital,"[ii]  This can also be seen as speculation, as no group of nurses have actually spoken out against the nurses’ union leadership. There is, however, the dilemma in  that there are hundreds of nurses who support the union’s strike for a heather living wage and more staffing on the nurses’ units at the UMV Medical Center hospital, while others have held back from the strike, and their voices are yet to be heard. One tactic that is very credible is that the union nurses’ leaders, if not the nurses themselves, want direct negation with the corporate leaders of the UVM hospital and not just allowing a mediator or mediators to dictate the rules of the labor dispute engagement.  Why talk with lieutenants on the other side about ending a conflict, when you want to talk with the generals’ adversaries?  As union organizer Daniel Luttrell commented “While the hospital says the union has refused to work with a mediator, union leaders say the mediator has been involved, but they want to sit down directly with decision-makers at the hospital.” It's concerning for me that our management is afraid of sitting in a room with a couple hundred nurses. They're afraid of us it seems -- at that rate -- and they feel we're being disrespectful in the bargaining session. We feel disrespect from them 365 -- every day of the year,"[iii]

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

On the other side, there is the leadership of the UVM Medical Center who are energetically promoting their version as to why the strike is unnecessary and how they have only a ‘benevolent’ attitude towards the striking nurses. At a news conference in the UVM Medical Center hospital on Tuesday, Laurie Gunn, who is the vice president of human resources implied that the nurses would be welcomed back to work after the strike, and went on to say “We are welcoming any of our nurses who'd like to come in during the work stoppage and will welcome all back at the conclusion of the strike," and adding as to placate any suspicions about not taking any striking nurses back  "There are no replacements for our nurses."[iv]  According the Burlington Free Press Reporter, Dan D'Ambrosio, who answered questions about the UVM nurses’ strike on Facebook, there are 600 replacement nurses to take over the working positions of the nurses who will be on the picket lines on Thursday and Friday.[v]  During these two days of strikes, you can be assured that the C.E.O. and President, Dr. John R. Brumsted and President and Chief Operating Officer, Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, will be working diligently to hide their actual strategy which is that they are supporting corporate profits at the UVM Medical Center over the overall demands of the nurses’ labor grievances and their willingness to strike over what they see as their justified labor demands. It is not lost to the leadership of the nurses’ union that they are in a historic fight in their struggle to maintain not only their integrity as professional nurses in providing the best care for their patients, but they are also able to live decently as Americans in the labor force. The nurses this morning were full of life, as they began their strike and unfurled their strike banner.

Luis Lázaro Tijerina

Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina