Wisconsin Employment Commission: state law prevents UW Health from recognizing nurse union

UW Health in Madison
UW Health in Madison
Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 4:44 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission says nurses at UW Health can’t organize a union and collectively bargain a contract under current Wisconsin law.

Earlier this year, nurses at UW Health planned a strike in hopes of pressuring UW Health to recognize the union nurses wanted to create and begin bargaining contracts. The goal was to offer better working conditions and increase the quality of care for patients.

In September, the nurses and UW Health reached an agreement to prevent the strike. However, the question remained – whether UW Health can recognize the union under current Wisconsin law.

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) released its review on Friday, November 25, 2022. The WERC writes “the Commission declares that the Wisconsin Employment Peace Act, Wis. Stat. ch. 111, subch. 1 (WEPA) does not apply to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority and its employees and their chosen representatives, if any.”

According to WERC, nurses at UW Health can’t obtain union recognition because Act 10 excludes UW Health from coverage by the Wisconsin Peace Act.

Here is the response to the WERC decision from UW nurses: “The groundbreaking agreement that nurses won in September empowers us with a union voice, and through a ‘Meet and Discuss’ process we are currently working on urgent improvements in patient care, staffing and retention. Hundreds of us have already signed up to become union members and we are meeting directly with the administration to raise critical issues and create real solutions. The opinion by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) does not impact our union membership or the Meet and Discuss process at UW Health. While we respect WERC, we do not agree with its opinion that UW Health nurses are excluded from the Employment Peace Act. As the Wisconsin Attorney General and labor law experts have asserted, UW Health clearly meets the definition of ‘employer’ under the Act and is therefore covered. We will be appealing WERC’s decision through the courts and petitioning for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This is the first round in a multi-step process for nurses achieving collective bargaining rights, either through the courts, the NLRB, or through voluntary recognition by UW Health. UW nurses are at the forefront of a national movement of working people – Black, brown, AAPI, white, and indigenous – who are organizing across race, place, and industry for Unions For All workers, no exceptions. We are continuing to build our union and work collectively with the administration to ensure UW Health is the best place to work and receive care.” — UW Health registered nurses Mary Jorgensen, Colin Gillis and Sarah Langland.