116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
‘We stand together.' That's the slogan we adopted at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics when the pandemic hit.
But those words feel empty after last week, when the state of Iowa imposed a bare-bones contract on us, the 4,000 RNs and health care professionals of UIHC.
Gov. Kim Reynolds told Iowa health care workers last month how much she appreciated our 'dedication and commitment” during the pandemic. 'We cannot sufficiently express our gratitude, but we will try,” Reynolds pledged. With this contract, she broke that pledge.
We've been struggling for years with low pay at UIHC. Our own CEO has said 'we are not market competitive for almost any job that we have.” Instead of addressing that crisis, Reynolds and the state's negotiators made it worse.
The 1.3 percent raises they forced on us this year and next will leave our pay lagging even further behind our peer institutions.
Iowa's severe anti-union laws tied our hands at the bargaining table. But we are going to keep fighting for our patients going forward. The one good thing that came out of these negotiations was a commitment from the administration at UIHC to work with us on building an innovative Labor Management Partnership.
The pandemic has laid bare, and intensified, the challenges we need to overcome at UIHC.
For years, our hospitals and clinics have seen soaring census levels. That's been good for UIHC's bottom line, but it's been burning out our caregivers. Last year, turnover among our experienced staff almost doubled: 467 caregivers with over 10 years of service exited UIHC.
By building a strong Labor Management Partnership we know we can reverse that trend. Giving front-line caregivers a real voice at UIHC will lead to smarter decisions and put less stress on staff.
When UIHC redeployed us to deal with the surge of COVID cases, we were shifted in ways that sometimes made little sense. Longtime nurses in our Mother Baby Care unit were sent with minimal training to units they were totally unfamiliar with. More than a few of our Mother Baby nurses have left and we worry that even more will exit.
Over the last year, UIHC also made drastic changes to our schedules without consulting staff.
That, coupled with the denial of vacations for workers in our intensive care units, has led to even more departures. By having our input on policies like these, the administration can do a better job retaining our health care team.
We can't afford to keep hemorrhaging staff. There's a serious shortage of health care workers in Iowa and across the country. Other hospitals are luring employees away from UIHC with $10,000 sign-on bonuses. That's why we're going to work with the administration on real raises for our co-workers. We have to supplement the state's miserly 1.3 percent increases with market-adjustment raises that reward staff for our dedication and expertise.
Thanks to our hard work, UIHC has the resources to invest in its caregivers. Even in 2020, when it looked like the pandemic might sink the hospital's finances, our operating income ended up $14 million above projections. This year, our revenues are running more than $100 million above the levels of last year.
It's time to give more than lip service to Iowa's caregivers. It's time to invest in UIHC's health care team and protect the world-class care that Iowans deserve.
Fae Jones, Connie Madsen, Theresa Moore, Dawn Shannahan, Barb Stanerson, Anne Sullivan, Michele Whaylen and Thad Wunder are nurses and health care professionals at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. They were elected by the 4,000 members of SEIU Local 199 at UIHC to serve on the union's bargaining team.