Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals

Please, Ascension Wisconsin, Respect Your Workers

We deserve fair pay, safer staffing, and paid COVID-19 sick leave.

Ascension's Columbia St. Mary's Hospital. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ascension’s Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Dear Bernie Sherry, CEO Ascension Wisconsin: 

Congratulations on being recognized as a Business Leader of the Year last month! Amidst yet another COVID surge, it is nice to take a moment to reflect on the service of our healthcare workers throughout this  brutal pandemic that has worn us all thin. We understand the CEOs who were honored by the Harvard Business School Club of Milwaukee “wanted to recognize workers throughout their organizations who have been providing patient care since the virus was first identified in Wisconsin in early 2020.”

However, as frontline healthcare workers who have seen the horrors of this pandemic in a unique light and continue to show up to care for the people who need us, there are several things immediately within your control that you could and should do to truly recognize us, your employees. Frontline Ascension healthcare employees deserve fair pay, safer staffing, and respect. That’s what we are bargaining with Ascension for as unionized frontline healthcare workers and members of the bargaining team for St. Francis Hospital, represented by the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. We urge you to finally listen to us, as we are the very people you say you want to recognize. 

You see, in December 2020, our union sent you a letter urging you to provide basic things that we needed, like paid COVID leave for any of us who need to quarantine so we don’t have to use our hard-earned PTO to stay home and keep our coworkers and patients safe if we’ve been exposed or become sick. We urged you to provide us all with bonuses and put more nurses and healthcare workers on our units, two common sense actions that would bolster our spirits and improve our workloads, so we could give our patients the best care possible. You said kind words in response to our letter, but we need kind actions. We’re still in need of those things over two years later, which is why we have made proposals to improve our hospital in this contract negotiation. 

We do not think you have done enough. We cannot wait anymore, not when we have seen several of our coworkers hospitalized after facing continuous exposures to this virus; not when it is now commonplace to see fellow nurses and healthcare professionals breaking down in tears at work, overwhelmed and exhausted; and not when 95% of us, according to our union’s survey, feel unsupported by Ascension.

You can change this, though. We proposed a thoughtful and comprehensive wage scale that would better compensate us as the “healthcare heroes” you tell us we are. Better pay for nurses and healthcare workers, coupled with sincere and concrete improvements to staffing (which we have also proposed and are awaiting agreement) will go a long way to address this staffing crisis that is keeping patients out of hospital beds and away from the care they need. It will help make healthcare a sustainable career again and help keep Milwaukee healthy.

We know it is tough everywhere. Across the country, our healthcare system is struggling to deal with a “labor shortage” and hospitals are being forced to close ICUs and hold critical patients in the Emergency Department, or even in hallways, when things are really bad. These inhumane, troubling realities are reflective of a healthcare system that desperately needs to raise its standards. Healthcare workers were burning out before the pandemic. Now, we’re being lit on fire. As one of the largest not-for-profit hospital corporations in the country, Ascension needs to do better. Thankfully, Ascension has the money and means to do better. Ascension now needs the will to do better.

Ascension reported net income (not-for-profit lingo for profit) of $5.7 billion for this last year. Ascension received $1.8 billion from the federal government as part of the federal relief packages enacted recently. Our hospital pays a $41-million management fee to Ascension nationally. Ascension has the money to provide its nurses and healthcare workers with what they need to care for our patients.

If you truly want to recognize us for the care we have provided since this pandemic began, we urge you to agree to finally provide us with the things we’ve been asking for these last few years by agreeing to a fair contract with our union to provide us with fair pay, safer staffing, and respect. These are the actions befitting of a business leader of the year.


Connie Smith, Surgical Tech, WFNHP Tech Chapter President

Tracey Schwerdtfeger, RN, WFNHP Nurse Chapter President

Judy Van Lare, Registered Radiological Technologist, Bargaining Team Member

Gavin Rice, BSRT RDMS RVT, Bargaining Team Member

Ryan Hamman, Patient Care Associate, Vice-President, Tech Chapter

Kellie Lutz, Patient Care Associate, Secretary, Tech Chapter

Mike Bucek, RN, Bargaining Team Member

Joy Balisteri, RN, Bargaining Team Member

Categories: Health, Op-Ed

2 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Please, Ascension Wisconsin, Respect Your Workers”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    The corporate overlords don’t care, they are leeches if a pyramid scheme call healthcare in this nation.

  2. mkwagner says:

    Poor treatment and lack of respect on the part of senior management towards Frontline care staff, impacts the quality of patient care. Frontline staff at CSM are physically and emotionally exhausted. Staff can only give to patients what is given to them. As a result, they are unable to respond to call lights in a timely fashion; they don’t have the time or expert support when placing IVs–patients’ arms are covered with bruises.
    The situation is so bad, I refuse to go to Ascension facilities for care.

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