Community ‘steps up,’ continues strike in honor of nurses

MARQUETTE — “What do we want?” “Safe staffing!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”

These are the voices that surrounded UPHS – Marquette from early Thursday until Saturday morning. At 6:59 a.m., the chanting stopped.

The nurses scheduled for their 7:00 shift walked together towards the door, delivering on the promise they made to return work upon the ending of their strike. The doors, however, refused to open.

Nurses, the bargaining team and community members then rallied at the UPHS – Marquette RN Office to close out their strike.

“Remember the fact that they would rather have these temp people that they brought in from out of town caring for our patients than allowing us to come back to work when we said we’d be back to work,” said Scott Balko, Operating Room RN and President of the UPHS Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA.

“We belong in that building. We belong in that hospital. There is nobody better to take care of our patients than us,” said Stephanie DePetro, Certified Operating Room nurse and Chief Grievance Steward of the UPHS Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA. ” We are not in agreement with our patient’s safety right now. Those patients need to be cared for by us.”

Although UPHS – Marquette said in a statement Friday that the replacement nurses needed to be hired for a minimum of five days and would continue to work until Tuesday, the nurses were encouraged to show up for their regularly scheduled shifts unless they were called off by the hospital.

The community was left waiting to see what they could do in support of their nurses, but they didn’t wait long. The next day, the community organized what they called an “informational picket” to show their support for the UPHS nurses.

“We’ve decided, the community, that it’s our time to step up. They’re trying to protect us. They need to have our backs in the community and that’s why we’re here,” said Brian Kerrigan, community activist who organized the picket. “We’re all going to need them at some point in time, all those nurses in there and we want safe staffing levels, we want quality nurses and when we need that facility, they are your best friend that you could ever have in the world in there. They truly are. We want them to be back doing that.”

From young to old, even members of other local unions showed up, carrying signs and repeating chants of their own.

“When you’ve already worked a 12 hour shift and they’re asking you to do 16, that’s just not safe,” said Calee Malvasio, an education consultant for Marquette Area Public Schools. “They already have laws in place for truckers so they don’t drive too much, I think the same thing needs to be in place for nurses. There’s no reason why they should be forced to work those hours.

Medical personnel that rely on UPHS – Marquette services also traveled to show their support.

“I came out today because, first and foremost, I am a Yooper,” said Dr. Adam Ryan, M.D., an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at the Iron Mountain Hospital. “Every once in awhile, I have to consider a transfer of a patient who is high-risk obstetrics or pre-mature, or after a baby is delivered, we have to send that child to the NICU here, and so it’s imperative that I can trust that this hospital has adequate staffing.”

According to their latest statement, the Michigan Nurses Council will continue to work on a fair contract that includes safe staffing. They are also asking the community to make signs and hang them in their homes or businesses to show their support until an agreement has been reached with the hospital.