‘Not backing down’: UW Health nurses, employees picket amid push for union recognition

MADISON, Wis. — Hundreds of UW Health employees picketed outside UW Hospital Thursday evening calling for solutions to what they call a crisis within the healthcare system.

The group said for more than two years, the majority of nurses have been calling on the UW Health board and administration to recognize their union so they can advocate for themselves and their patients.

“We mean business and we’re not going anywhere,” registered nurse Shari Signer said. “We are not backing down. The nurses are the ones that know what’s happening at the bedside and that we need to be at the table helping to make decisions that directly impact the patients that we’re caring for.”

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Demonstrators said nurses are suffering from extreme physical, mental and emotional exhaustion and many are leaving UW Health and the field altogether, worsening the state’s nursing shortage.

UW Health press secretary Emily Kumlien issued a statement ahead of the picket, saying:

“At UW Health, we encourage our nurses to make their voices heard. Hundreds of them are doing that through our shared governance system of nursing councils, driving the continuous improvement that has made us the #1 hospital in Wisconsin ten straight years. While the law is clear that we cannot recognize a union and collectively bargain a contract, we will continue working directly with our nurses through our nursing councils to address workforce challenges and continue improving the patient care we provide.”

Signer previously told News 3 Now the shared governance system and similar approaches have not worked.

In November, UW Health denied allegations from two Madison alders who accused the healthcare organization of using anti-union tactics and anti-union consultants. Months prior, the Common Council backed the workers’ unionization push.