UI Hospitals & Clinics staffers send ‘valentines’ to CEO, demanding new contract

A group of health-care providers led by former gubernatorial candidate and nurse Cathy Glasson demanded a “fair contract” and furthered talks between the hospital and state Board of Regents.


Charles Peckman

Former gubernatorial candidate and SEIU Local 199 President Cathy Glasson speaks at a news conference on Thursday outside of UIHC. Glasson said the state Board of Regents is not listening to the concerns of healthcare workers – after the news conference, Glasson and other event participants delivered valentines to the CEO’s office, urging him to reach a new contract deal.

Charles Peckman, News reporter

Caregivers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics distributed valentines to UI Health Care CEO Suresh Gunasekaran on Thursday while demanding a “fair contract.”

A group of health-care providers led by former gubernatorial candidate and nurse Cathy Glasson held a news conference on Thursday to further negotiation talks between Service Employees International Union Local 199 members and the state Board of Regents.

“The Regents’ latest offer would wipe away the caregivers’ previous contract and it would fail to close the pay gap that leaves UIHC nurses far below the nation’s median pay for [registered nurses],” said a news release from the union, which represents 2,500 UI Health Care professional and scientific staff members.

The proposed contract also includes a raise for some nurses at a rate of 2.7 percent the first year. According to 103 reported salaries for UIHC registered nurses on Indeed.com, the average salary is $51,397 per year, which is 28 percent lower than the national average.

At the news conference, union President Glasson urged the regents to take the hard work of health-care professionals into consideration.

“The administration isn’t listening,” Glasson said. “They’re not listening to their employees. Their failure to listen is a constant problem, and it’s led to many failed policies and procedures. It’s led to their latest offer to these health-care providers — we know that they know it would be a disaster for the hospital.”

The absence of a union contract at UIHC, Glasson added, has led to “demoralizing policies” at the hospital. The latest offer from the regents, which she said was submitted last month, includes a raise of 1 percent a year for the next two years for a majority of job classifications.

“We’re here today to make sure they hear us,” Glasson said. She then read a valentine addressed to Gunasekaran, which read, “Have a heart. We want to stay at UIHC to keep providing ‘unparalleled care’ for our patients. Those are your kind words, Mr. Gunasekaran, but the unkind contract offer from you and the regents would force many of us to leave the hospital. Please do the right thing for our patients.”

Lab scientist Coen Olson, who was also present at the news conference, said the lack of a contract has led him to worry about his position at UIHC and the positions of those he works with.

“It left me with a level of security where I had to take a second job making pizza,” he said. “Everyone here is still committed to providing great care… I wonder how much longer we can maintain the world-class care we have. That’s why winning a full and fair contract matters. We need a contract that gives younger workers an incentive to build their careers long-term.”

Physical Therapist Barbara Stanerson poses for a portrait outside of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Thursday. Stanerson said she hopes conversations with the hospital administration and Regents move forward successfully. “We’ve had a contract here for 20-something years and it’s built up this wonderful hospital with wonderful care, so why not continue with that? That’s all we’re asking for,” she said.

Barbara Stanerson, a physical therapist who was present at Thursday’s event, said she hopes the valentines are a first step in urging Gunasekaran to reach a fair contract. Stanerson said she has heard concerns from staff members in various departments about changes to overtime pay and personnel shortages.

“Hopefully, the CEO will listen and talk to the regents, and that will be part of our conversation — that they’ll be a little more open to getting a new contract with more information in it,” Stanerson said. “We’ve had a contract here for 20-something years, and it’s built up this wonderful hospital with wonderful care, so why not continue with that? That’s all we’re asking for.”

Regent spokesman Josh Lehman said he is confident the bargaining process will move forward successfully.

“We are following the collective bargaining process, and have been negotiating in good faith. We are hopeful that we can come to a voluntary agreement with SEIU,” he said in a statement to The Daily Iowan.