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St. John Providence nurse-anesthetists lose jobs in outsourcing dispute

Dec 31, 2015

The St. John Providence Hospital campus in Southfield.
Credit via stjohnprovidence.org

Most nurse-anesthetists at two Detroit-area hospitals lost their jobs Thursday, after they refused to sign a contract outsourcing their jobs to a private company.

The nurses worked for Saint John Providence hospitals in Southfield and Novi.

In October, the hospitals gave them a choice: either sign a contract with a brand-new company run by a hospital anesthesiologist, or “voluntarily resign” their jobs.

After weeks of contentious talks, 66 decided on the latter.

David Shea, an attorney who represented the nurses, said compensation wasn’t the issue in this labor dispute.

Shea said the company, PSJ Anesthesia, refused to provide basic information or answer questions.

“Questions like, ‘What policies and procedures are we going to have to work under if we do accept this job?’ And the answer was ‘Well, we don’t have them written yet,’” Shea said.

Shea said the contract also contained some clauses the nurses found “unacceptable.” They included the company’s right to change benefits packages at any time, a non-compete clause, and a ban on the nurse-anesthetists “moonlighting” at other hospitals in their off-hours.

Jessica Mast, one of the nurses who lost her job, said the group didn’t necessarily object to working for an outside vendor instead of the hospital.

But Mast said the lack of basic employment guarantees, and the hostility nurses faced when asking questions, made up her mind.

“We’re professionals,” Mast said. “We should probably be part of this process, not just shooed to the wayside and expected to obey people just based on their word.”

Since Mast and others who left were forced to “resign,” they’re not eligible for severance payments or unemployment benefits.

However, a social media campaign to did draw attention to their situation. It gained a wide following, with messages of support for the group dubbed the "Michigan 68" flooding in from health care workers across the country.

A gofundme campaign that Mast started with the goal of raising $1000 for legal fees had netted more than $58,000 on Dec. 31.

Shea says that outsourcing hospital jobs to cut costs is a “large trend” in the current health care industry. “But this is the first time where we’ve had a group that has bound together to say ‘No, we’re not going to allow you to outsource on your terms,’” he said.

St. John-Providence said in a statement that despite the mass departure, the hospitals will remain “100 percent operational…without any interruption in care.”