Ascension Providence nurses in Rochester Hills picket against hospital, threatening to strike

For the nurses marching in front of Ascension Providence, their demands were written across their signs.

"Nurses deserve a fair contract" read one sign, held by some of the dozens picketing on Sunday. 

For the nurses of Local 40 union at the Rochester Hills hospital, they've been working without a contract for nearly a year. As time has dragged on, frustrations over not having a contract have metastasized from irritation to threats of a strike.

"The Catholic Church has a longtime history of supporting labor unions and supporting labor. So we feel this is not a very good representation of being a Catholic ministry," said Jeff Morawski, president of OPEIU Local 40.

Morawski says the hospital is no longer negotiating in good faith.

"The nurses have been working every third weekend for many many years," said Morawski. "Most haven't had a wage increase in nine years."

Among the demands that nurses have listed are for appropriate staffing and time off to spend with their families. In response, the union says the hospital has resorted to deducting union dues from paychecks in an attempt to cut funding.

The union leadership says if things don't change soon, more drastic action could take place. 

"You can expect more of these pickets and Local 40 - we are talking about having a possible strike vote," said Morawski.

The added complication of COVID-19 means that a nurse strike could have detrimental ramifications for the health care infrastructure of the region.

"To have a strike during COVID would really affect the community but we want the hospital to know that we are serious and these nurses are willing to vote to go on strike." 

The hospital issued a statement late Sunday, saying:

"We respect the right of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 40 to hold an informational picket outside of Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital. As with any event of this kind, the safety and security of our patients, visitors, associates, physicians and picketers is our first priority."

A strike vote could come within the next two or three weeks.