SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Hundreds of health care workers at the University of Utah announced Tuesday that they voted to unionize plan to push for higher wages and improved working conditions.
Caleb Wilcox, a nurse and spokesperson for the newly-formed Utah Health Workers United, said the union includes over 500 supporters, ranging from nurses to residents, cleaning personnel to physician assistants.
“The university has done listening sessions, we’ve had conversations, we’ve had surveys for many years, and the changes haven’t come,” Wilcox said. “That’s when we decided we need a union to do what’s best for our patients.”
One of the main issues for union supporters is wages.
According to Wilcox, the University of Utah is a top-ranked medical facility but doesn’t pay its workers accordingly. As a result, nurses and other workers leave because they can make more elsewhere, or because they’re burned out.
“If we can’t retain these staff, the patient outcomes get worse,” he said.
The union hopes to negotiate with university and hospital leaders. Aside from wage increases, the union also seeks to push for better benefits and improved staffing levels.
In a statement, University of Utah Health said it had not received notification of the union’s formation — something Wilcox disputes. He told ABC4 the union sent a note to university officials early Tuesday.
Also in the university’s statement, U of U Health said every employee received a pay increase this year, adding that the organization regularly reviews local and national compensation data to ensure its pay is competitive.
“We focus on the retention of our talented care teams and routinely meet with them to better understand their needs,” the university said.
In a statement sent out to workers and shared with ABC4, U of U Health told its employees that it’s “prohibited from recognized organizations for purposes of collective bargaining,” but still embraces the opportunity to listen to workers’ concerns.
According to Wilcox, the effort to unionize health care workers at the University of Utah was a long time coming, but he said most of the recent organizing happened over the last 10 months.
As for the annual pay raise all employees received, he said the pay boost wasn’t enough to cover the recent rise in inflation.
Utah Health Workers United is an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.