UW Health leaders claim Act 10 prevents them from working with nurses’ union

UW Health sign

MADISON, Wis. — Leadership from the University of Wisconsin Health system said Thursday afternoon that they can’t recognize a nurses union, citing A 2011 Wisconsin law.

The UW Health Board of Directors said in a statement that while nurses are “the cornerstone of patient care,” Act 10 legislation prevents them from engaging in collective bargaining negotiations with the UW Health nurses and Service Employees International Union.

Nurses with the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority held a news conference in December to announced that they’d formed a union and are demanding voluntary recognition from the UWHCA Board of Directors.

Citing a lack in proper staffing and available beds, nurses with UWHCA formed their union in an attempt to improve staff-to-patient ratios, according to the group.

In 2011, when the state legislature passed then-Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, the UWHCA was removed from the Wisconsin Employment Peace Act, which dissolved the nurses’ union at the end of their contract.

“UWHCA cannot recognize SEIU as the representative for all UWHCA nurses or meet and confer to reach an agreement with it regarding the terms of UWHCA nurses’ employment,” UW Health leaders said in a statement.

In a statement to News 3 Now, the UW Health Nurses Union said it is not asking for the board to recognize them as a collective bargaining agent, but rather voluntarily recognize it as a union and agree to a meet-and-confer process, which it says is allowed under Act 10.

“Rather than engaging in a meaningful dialogue about the lawfulness of our demands, UW Health released a statement which is either willfully ignorant or profoundly dishonest,” the union wrote. “As we have said many times before, if we felt the status quo was sufficient for us to fulfill our potential as professional nurses, we wouldn’t have put forth our demands at all.”

In December 2013, on the eve of Act 10 taking effect at UWHCA and the expiration of the then-current contracts, SEIU organized a similar walk-in appeal to the UWHCA Board of Directors, UW Health said.

At that time, President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky told the group that UWHCA is not responsible for the law, but that UW Health wouldn’t “engage in activities that violate the spirit and intent of the law,” officials said in the release Thursday.

“Since 2013, the law has not changed – and neither has UWHCA’s position,” UW Health said in Thursday’s statement.

UW Health said that it is “listening hard” to the concerns the nurses raised in December and the board “will be redoubling our efforts to work with our nurses, through our nursing councils to address them.”

On Dec. 21, leadership from the University of Wisconsin Health system said it will stick with its current system to get feedback from employees.