AG opinion says UW Health can voluntarily collectively bargain with nurses’ union

UW Health University Hospital entrance

MADISON, Wis. — UW Health can collectively bargain voluntarily with a union representing UW Hospital’s nurses, Attorney General Josh Kaul concluded Thursday, prompting nurses to call for their union to be immediately recognized.

A formal 11-page opinion Kaul sent to Gov. Tony Evers concludes UW Health has statutory power to collectively bargain with nurses on a voluntary basis but does not conclude whether it is required to bargain collectively.

UW Health “has broad powers to contract with its employees and set their terms of employment, and it could choose to do so via a voluntary collective bargaining process,” Kaul wrote.

Following Thursday’s announcement, members of the UW Health Nurse Union Organizing Committee issued a statement calling on the health care provider to immediately recognize its union “in order to solve the spiraling crisis in our facilities, which includes dangerous understaffing and turnover that put patient care at risk.”

“The strong majority of nurses have been calling for a union for over two and a half years,” the statement, signed by 17 nurses, reads. “This entire time, UW Health’s central objection was the false assertion that they were legally prevented from recognizing us.”

In an email Thursday night, UW Health press secretary Emily Kumlien said the health care provider will review the opinion.

“While this opinion runs contrary to statements in the legislative history, Legislative Council opinions and our own internal and external counsel’s review, we respect the Attorney General’s opinion and will be discussing these conflicting legal opinions with our Public Authority Board at its next meeting.”