Sparrow Hospital health workers to hold informational picket to highlight health system’s inaction on staffing issues


Patrick Jones


Health care professionals at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing will hold an informational picket on the hospital sidewalk on Nov. 3. There will not be a work stoppage and health care professionals will be off the clock. However, they say if hospital executives continue to underpay workers and not increase staffing levels after the picket, they are prepared to call for a strike authorization vote.


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Here are some of the main concerns from both sides of the issue.

Michigan Nurses Association

The picketers say they are speaking out to highlight the poor staffing conditions and lack of assistance from the Sparrow Health System. The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) says their demands for retention programs and increased financial incentives to improve staffing shortages have not been heard by the health system, leading to health care professionals leaving their jobs, furthering their shortages. 

The picketers are advocating for safe staffing practices, which MNA has been advocating for repeatedly under the Safe Patient Care Act. MNA claims Sparrow refused to follow existing contractual language regarding safe staffing and made a proposal to effectively eliminate it completely in the next contract. 

Katie Pontifex, president of the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA), says:

“The pandemic has shown us the flaws in our health care system and how vital it is that these flaws be fixed. Sparrow executives cannot keep choosing to skate on thin ice with our staffing levels. There isn’t a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers in this state – there is a shortage of nurses and health care workers willing to work under the current conditions that hospital executives have become way too comfortable with over the years. The worse staffing gets, the more qualified caregivers we lose. Something has to change, and it needs to change now.”

According to MNA, Sparrow Health System received $106 million in pandemic-related federal government aid from the CARES Act. Despite this significant financial support coming to Sparrow, MNA says the health system has refused to implement retention incentives or reinstate longevity bonuses to health care professionals. 

Jennifer Ackley, a nurse who works in the emergency department at Sparrow Hospital, says:

“I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am tired of being asked to keep doing more with less. We need safe staffing. We need to recruit and retain nurses and other caregivers. We need to be heard. Sparrow executives cannot keep trying to use the pandemic as an excuse not to do the right thing.

Julie Mason, a clinical laboratory scientist in the Microbiology Department of Sparrow Hospital, says:

“We are advocating for safe staffing. We are advocating to retain caregivers. Rather than investing in the frontlines, Sparrow’s executives have chosen to hire anti-union attorneys to try to silence our collective voice. We are holding this informational picket to say we will not be silenced.”

According to MNA, Sparrow decided to hire Barnes and Thornburg, a law firm specializing in “union avoidance.” MNA feels this shows that Sparrow does not respect their voices or care to negotiate for fair contracts.

Sparrow Health System’s response

Sparrow says they continue to “bargain in good faith” to reach an agreement that will be best for patients, caregivers, the community, and Sparrow. John Foren, Sparrow’s director of media relations, says:

“Sparrow Hospital remains focused on reaching an agreement that continues to provide competitive wages and benefits to help attract and retain our caregivers.”

Foren says they have met with PECSH-MNA 18 times since negotiations began on July 30 and have made significant progress in implementing benefits for their caregivers. He says Sparrow pays time-and-a-half for bonus shifts — plus up to $20 extra an hour —, has paid $22 million on overtime, and nearly $300 million in overall salary costs. 

“Sparrow has the highest respect for all our caregivers, and we value them and the work they do every day to care for patients and families. Like health systems across the country, we continue navigating staffing challenges but remain committed to staffing ratios that are consistent with, or better than, peer hospitals and meet or exceed legislation mandating caregiver staffing ratios in other states.”

Foren says Sparrow has made several proposals to help improve staffing and continue to post, approve, and interview for new positions. He says they recruit and retain caregivers by participating in “dozens” of career fairs each year, recruit at schools around the state, and offer referral and sign-on retention bonuses.

Sparrow Health System, on Oct. 29, proposed the following to the union:

  • A 4% general increase upon contract ratification;
  • A 3% general in October 2023 and 2024 and 1 % step/progression increase in May 2023 and 2024
  • This represents a total of a 4% increase each contract year for a total of a 12% over 3 years.
  • One-time lump sum bonus payment of $1,000 for all Full Time and $500 for all Part-time bargaining unit members.
  • Of the $22 million Sparrow Hospital has spent January thru September 2021 YTD on overtime, on-call and premium pay for caregivers, 56%, or $12.3 million was paid to MNA/PECSH bargaining unit members.  Of that, RNs directly received $11.4 million.