Nurses union, hospital at odds over on-call system

A labor union claims a new on-call system for nurses working in North Ottawa Community Hospital's Family Birthing Unit is exhausting its staff and putting patients at risk. Hospital officials say that's not true, and the labor complaint filed by the Michigan Nurses Association is a contract negotiation bargaining ploy.
Mark Brooky
Mar 9, 2012


The nurses union has asked the National Labor Relations Board to step in after they say the Grand Haven hospital “unilaterally established a new on-call system for nurses that could compromise patient safety,” according to a statement released by the union. The union says that violates the National Labor Relations Act, and the hospital administration is refusing to compromise.

“Forcing an unsafe on-call system on the nurses is defenseless and puts the patients at risk,” said Flo Baerren, labor relations representative for the union. “There is no question that the hospital is violating the law by refusing to bargain with the nurses over the hours they work and listen to their professional judgment on the matter.”

Jennifer VanSkiver, spokeswoman for the hospital and its parent organization, the North Ottawa Community Health System, said the collective bargaining agreement in place with the nurses union gives the hospital the right to schedule nurses as needed to meet patient demand.

She said the health system and the union are in collective bargaining negotiations for a new labor agreement, and no law has been violated.

“Call scheduling is a topic of the bargaining process, along with all other terms and conditions of employment,” VanSkiver said.

She said they’ll continue to negotiate “to reach an agreement that best meets as many employee preferences and requests as possible, while keeping patient safety and patient needs as our top priorities.”

There are 13 full- and part-time nurses working in the birthing center, and another two “casual” or “as-needed” nurses, VanSkiver said. She said at no time is the care of patients put at risk.

“NOCH exists for the care of our patients and community,” VanSkiver said. “We employ highly qualified personnel and we schedule staff to ensure optimum patient care. We have changed the days of the week on which we schedule nurses for call over the years based on what is best for our patients at every given point in time. We have also hired additional nurses as necessary to ensure staff members are not working excessive hours.”

She said the hospital’s scheduling and on-call practices are recognized and similar to the practices of other West Michigan hospitals.

This is the third time in a year that the nurses union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Grand Haven hospital. A charge filed 14 months ago has since been resolved, both VanSkiver and the union said.

When the hospital implemented the on-call system for its operating room circulating nurses last year, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge over the change. That charge is still pending with the National Labor Relations Board and has been deferred to arbitration. The union said a hearing is set for this month.

“Labor unions have the right to file complaints,” VanSkiver said. “The filing of complaints in and of themselves does not mean that any law has been violated.”

John Karebian, executive director the union, said he can’t think of any other employer his organization has dealt with that has had this many unfair labor practices filed against it in such a short period.

“The nurses have the right to have a voice in how any unit is staffed,” Karebian said. “We will not stand by and allow the hospital to create problems with patient safety and care by refusing to consider the nurses’ proposals for proper staffing and call schedules.” 

The Michigan Nurses Association is the largest union for registered nurses in the state, and is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.



Like patients need any more risk coming here.. if you need anything more than some stitches do yourself a favor and go to another hospital if possible


Thanks for the tip.


Seriously, there are about 20 babies born there in a month. That leaves on average, 10 days a month the nurses are not doing anything. Because if its a union job, you can't ask them to do anything else. So...with those extra 10 days a month or 120 days a year; don't you think they are getting enough rest at work. If you don't believe me; feel free to stop by and check out the front desk at the FBU. I will guess there will be one, if not several nurses sitting at that desk doing very little. Either that, or they will be watching the TV in the birthing room next to the front desk. Maybe NOCH should look at eliminating the union all together. With todays economy, I am sure it wouldn't be hard to replace a nursing staff that isn't capable of keeping up at a larger hospital. Like any of the surrounding hospitals.


A well-informed author appears well-educated. An uninformed author doesn't.


First, All my children have been born at North Ottawa and there was nothing but professional, knowledgeable and compassionate staff on the birthing unit.I WOULD NOT THINK OF GOING ANYWHERE ELSE!!! I have been in other hospitals(the "bigger" hospitals) and I don't want to go there again, I felt more like a number there, at NOCHS I felt like a person as well as a patient, NOCHS is small enough to give you that feeling. It is my understanding that the FBU Nurses( who by the way have well over 125 years of combined experience) are not only being asked to work their normal hours, but also "on-call" hours, during these on-call hours they are required to STAY in town and be able to be at the hospital within one hour in case of emergencies or admissions. How would you like to work your Monday through Friday job(or whatever your normal schedule is) and then be told, oh yeah, you have been assigned to stay in town this Saturday AND Sunday,"on-call". No family outing, no errands out of town, but just sit and be at NOCHS beckon call. It is also my understanding the the Nurses have attempted to discuss this "on-call" procedure so they can actually have and plan for their own lives, and offer many suggestions, BUT the administration has been unwilling to "bargain in good faith" and come to a mutually satisfactory solution. Being a R/N means giving your 100% all the time, I have been involved with friends who have lost their baby and saw what these nurses go through when this happens. Do you think you could handle this type of emotional trauma and not be mad when you are told keep giving "more more more more for less less less". Not all is bad though, there are many positive experiences that they share in with the families that trust them to do their jobs, BUT shouldn't they be allowed to have a life and share in those same positive experiences with their own loved ones also? I have watched the medical field grow and grow in Grand Haven, I have seen my own doctor join the "spectrum group" and then come back because he didn't like the "assembly line medicine either". Yes NOCHS needs to make money and be viable, but you can not do it on the backs of the staff that make NOCHS what it is. NOCHS is experiencing growing pains and grabbing at the low hanging fruit when they really need to focus on 1) attracting more doctors 2) hire R/N's to fill all these empty shifts 3) appreciate the staff they have and realize they are willing to work with administration, WHY, because they love NOCHS and our community. Good luck ladies and thank you for all you do AND have to put up with.


The birthing unit is pretty good.. I will give them that


Dude, the Birthing Unit is what we are talking about. Why did you make that comment about the stitches if you like the Birthing Unit?


HueJastle, why do you say that? It seems to me overly negative. What evidence do you have that this is a dangerous hospital for patients?
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Fire them old bags... there are plenty of nurses looking for jobs.... The problem is today... we have cuddled these kids... and the only thing they know is working day shift and Monday thru Friday.. NO weekends and Holidays... The hospital is a very nice facility... The problem is the hospital got rid of the LPN's and nurses aid that did most of the work... The RN's only want to do very little patient care that may get their nails chipped or dirty...... this goes for all hospital... NOCH get rid of the nurses attitudes... and bring back the real staff... It does not take a RN to care for patients...


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