MADISON (WKOW)-- Meriter Hospital is frequently ranked as one of the best in the nation for patient care, but nurses are concerned that a new contract proposal would put patients in danger.
Nurses and hospital management have been without a contract for nearly six months. Administrators submitted a proposal earlier this Summer, but nurses turned it down because they feel it would hurt their quality of patient care.
That's why dozens of nurses decided to picket Wednesday afternoon.
"When nurses are under attack what do we do? Fight back," one nurse yelled during Wednesdays picket.
Meriter employs 720 nurses. Many of them are upset about the way contract negotiations have been going with management. They claim that recent provisions would decrease quality of care and cut employee benefits.
Their main concern is a concept called "floating." Nurses say a recent proposal would require them to move or "float" around to several units throughout the hospital regardless of their speciality. Nurses say it's like asking an English teacher to teach a chemistry class.
"I take care of new moms and babies. You put me on a cardiac unit and I don't know the drugs. I don't know the patients and I don't know the routines. I don't know where things are located and that's not safe," longtime Meriter nurse Marion Stokes says.
Nurses are also upset that the recent contract proposal would require them to pay more for health benefits.
"Nurses are exposed to a lot of different pathogens and then we're exposed to the chemicals to kill the pathogens in the rooms," Meriter nurse Mary Malaney says. "We also have a high injury rate, so we're concerned about our insurance benefits."
Meriter management responded with a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"The offer we made in July for a 4.5% raise and a requirement to pay slightly more for benefits results in a salary and benefit package that is among the best in the city, whether you work for government or a private business. Meriter would never place a nurse into a care situation for which he or she is not qualified. That would put both the patient and nurse at risk."
The two parties will come together on Monday to resume their negotiations.
"Hopefully management will respond favorably to our proposal and we will be able to work out our differences," Malaney says.
When asked what happens next if bargaining negotiations don't go their way on Monday, nurses said they would meet up and figure out a plan for moving forward. When asked if they had any plans to strike nurses said it's a possibility, but they hope things will never get that far.