More PPE, staffing and representation: Nurses call for change at Capitol rally

Nurses Week ‘Speak Out’ event honors frontline workers’ sacrifices during pandemic

MADISON, Wis. – After an intense year caring for patients, nurses are asking for some assistance of their own.

They want their voices heard when talking about their struggles, which they say have only gotten worse during the pandemic.

“I learned in nursing school we must be advocates for patients, day in and day out,” recent nursing school graduate Ian Torado said. “I realized during the pandemic we need to be advocates for ourselves, as well.”

He said that’s so important that he’s missing his graduation at Camp Randall Saturday to speak at a Nurses Week “Speak Out” event at the Capitol, organized by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the state’s largest union for health care workers. Governor Tony Evers, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and other leaders also spoke to honor frontline workers’ sacrifices during the pandemic.

“I have a lot of colleagues in the (emergency department), (intensive care unit), all over the hospital, who now have PTSD, and truly don’t feel supported by the public,” Torado said. “We know we’re respected, but not supported at all when the state governments and local governments and federal governments say, ‘Hey we need to mask up; We need to get our vaccine,’ and we see a lot of people completely defying that, and that’s kind of a slap in the face to us as care workers.”

“It’s added a lot of stress,” UW Health Nurse Ashley Campbell said. “It takes a heavy mental toll trying to work so hard to keep people safe when you’re not given what you need.”

Nurses including Campbell brought their concerns to the Capitol to call for what they say is lacking in hospitals: adequate personal protective equipment and proper staffing to care for patients.

“It’s a lot more dangerous for those people to receive care from nurses who are overwhelmed, understaffed and don’t have enough resources,” Nurse Delia Pertzborn said. “There were a lot of staffing crises and needs. We were often working very short because people had to float to ICUs … it’s definitely very overwhelming and stressful. It doesn’t have to be that way if you have the proper resources.”

It’s a beautiful day for SOLIDARITY! Our Nurses Week Speak Out is kicking off at the Capitol with Governor Tony Evers,…

Posted by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin on Saturday, May 8, 2021

Nurses demand a seat at the table

UW Health nurses in particular are again calling for a seat at the negotiations table, asking administration to recognize a union voice.

The nurses’ union was disbanded after Act 10 in 2011.

“My father was a nurse at UW most of his career. I grew up watching what the union can do for nurses and patients,” Campbell said. “One of the hardest things for me as a child of two nurses is seeing that for my parents, this was a lifelong profession. This was something you got into and got really good at. It was a rewarding, sustaining career. Now when I talk to nurses my age and younger people, they can’t envision that future anymore.”

“Not having a seat at the table doesn’t allow us to engage in the care we give,” said Torado, who is a new nurse resident at UW Health.

In a statement, UW Health spokesperson Emily Kumlien said, “UW Health leaders and staff nurses have been working together directly and collaboratively to meet the needs of our patients while following all state laws on collective bargaining. Our robust system of nursing shared governance is part of what makes UW Health a great place to work and a place our patients receive truly remarkable care.”

UW Health has told News 3 Now in the past that the Act 10 legislation prevents them from recognizing a union, though that’s a point of contention with nurses and SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin.

“There’s no legal barrier,” Campbell said. “We’ve had lawyers look at it, and all it would take is our board recognizing our desire to form a union.”

A lawyer told News 3 Now that it was a legal “gray area” last year. UW Health wasn’t able to answer specific legal questions Saturday.

Expanding collective bargaining rights was one of the priorities in Evers’ budget recently scrapped by the Joint Finance Committee.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter nurses and their union recently came to an agreement on a new contract following threats of a strike. Nurses from Meriter spoke and attended Saturday’s event, as well.