UW Health: Addresses legal barrier to unionization effort

Commits to working with nurses on mutual concerns of staffing and communication

CONTACT:    Tom Russell

(608) 828-6868

(315) 730-5719


On December 19, 2019, a group of UW Health nurses and representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spoke at the public meeting of the UWHCA Board of Directors and held a later press conference. They raised a number of concerns and demanded that the Board recognize SEIU as the nurses’ union and begin to meet and confer with them.

The UWHCA Board met again on January 23, 2020 and allocated time on its publicly-noticed agenda for this group to speak again. A spokesperson for the group shared similar concerns and reiterated their demands.

UWHCA’s Response:

The UW Health Board of Directors and leadership firmly believe that our providers and staff are the lifeblood of our organization – and that our nurses are the cornerstone of patient care at UW Health. They are with patients and families during their most vulnerable moments, and their engagement is critical for UW Health to continue to provide remarkable care.

UWHCA, as a result of the 2011 Act 10 legislation, cannot engage in collective bargaining negotiations. UWHCA cannot recognize SEIU as the representative for all UWHCA nurses or meet and confer to reach an agreement with it regarding the terms of UWHCA nurses’ employment.

In December 2013, on the eve of Act 10 taking effect at UWHCA (with the expiration of the then-current contracts), SEIU organized a similar walk-in appeal to the UWHCA Board of Directors.

At that time, President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky responded that UWHCA is not responsible for the law (Act 10), but that we would not engage in activities that violate the spirit and intent of the law (See December 13, 2013 letter from Donna Katen-Bahensky to the then-leaders of SEIU and WSEU).

Since 2013, the law has not changed – and neither has UWHCA’s position. The appropriate forum for this debate is not with the UWHCA Board; it is with the Wisconsin legislature.

That said, the nurses raised concerns on issues related to staffing and internal communications. We are listening hard to their concerns and share their commitment to quality patient care. We will be redoubling our efforts to work with our nurses, through our nursing councils to address them.

UW Health leaders remain fully committed to working with nurses directly to strengthen our system of shared governance to empower nurses in all roles to achieve quality patient and family centered care.