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Mercy Health Muskegon employees demand fair contract agreement, solution to staffing shortage: 'We are getting burnt out'

Workers say they're ready to take action if Trinity Health officials don't meet their Jan. 31 deadline for contract negotiations.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The message at Monday night's rally was clear — union employees at Mercy Health Muskegon are looking for respect for their work with both better pay and staffing conditions. 

They say they've been negotiating for years, with no raises for a number of departments.

The local division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) took a stand, sharing what they're experiencing in the hospital and what they say needs to happen next.

"There's a shortage because we're tired of being pushed to our limits, taking six to seven patients for one nurse. We are getting burnt out," said labor and delivery nurse Kala Scholtens. "If Trinity (Health) doesn't offer us a better contract, the staffing crisis will be worse."

These union members say that people are leaving for traveling positions or other healthcare systems that are offering more competitive wages and better bonuses. A bulk of those working in the hospital right now are travelers too, which the union members say they're grateful for, but they want to see more from their bosses.

"What Trinity needs to do is pay the people that are here now," said Jaime Christenson, a food and nutritional services department worker. 

RELATED: 'We refuse to settle': Trinity Health workers issue contract negotiation deadline

A spokesperson with Mercy Health Muskegon issued a statement Monday:

"The RNs, Tech and Support units at Mercy Health Muskegon have been represented by SEIU for years and we have always reached agreements with the union. Mercy Health Muskegon leadership and the RN, Service & Support and Tech units have been exchanging bargaining proposals for a new contract since February 2021.

Our negotiations are currently focused on non-economic items; and Mercy Health Muskegon has openly expressed our desire to increase the pace of the current negotiations to also address economic items. We have offered retention bonuses and sign-on bonuses, which the union membership recently voted down. Mercy Health Muskegon is currently providing critical staffing pay to many classifications of workers.

We look forward to increasing the pace of our negotiations, with the ultimate goal of reaching new agreements with the union. We have been able to do so in the past, and see no reason we will not reach agreements with the union."

The union employees at the rally say that proposal was only for select departments.

"We stood in solidarity and told them that they needed to come up with something better," said respiratory therapist Cyndi Zeanwick.

They say they're ready to take action if Trinity Health officials don't meet their Jan. 31 deadline for contract negotiations.

"We don't want to be called heroes," Scholtens says. "We want Trinity Health to put workers over profit and put the community first."

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