Michigan Health System

Type: Labor Communications


Training Was "Very Good" Or "Excellent"


Felt Equipped To Answer Questions From Caregivers

Key Highlights:

  • Developed a proactive and reactive “always-on” news bureau
  • Launched a subject matter expert program, including quarterly panel discussions attended by the media
  • Pioneered a media distribution strategy to regularly deliver new and relevant research to leading U.S. and International media contacts


One of the largest health systems in Michigan first retained Reputation Partners in 2017 when it faced a contentious labor negotiation with the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA), which represents 2,300 caregivers at its flagship hospital. Since the last time the health system had negotiated a new contract, Michigan had become a Right to Work state, so they expected the union to be aggressive.


Our team managed all labor negotiations communication on behalf of the management team. During previous contract negotiations, the health system had rarely communicated with represented caregivers. We advocated for a new approach focused on transparent, frequent and fact-based communication, developed multiple channels for the health system to communicate with its caregivers and trained caregiver leaders to successfully deliver messages and answer questions. 

The health system reengaged Reputation Partners for communications planning and support around its 2020 Open Enrollment benefits period. Our  team drafted copy for and designed multiple physical and digital assets to show caregiver their health care options.

We again helped the health system communicate around negotiations with the MNA in 2021. Since the 2017 agreement, the MNA had come under the auspices of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest and most militant nurses’ union. Additionally, a new leadership and communications team at the health system included individuals who did not have experience working within a unionized environment. For these negotiations, our team created a research-based, robust and consistent communications apparatus for Hospital management to connect more directly with caregivers. We also recommended and implemented a number of negotiations-focused communications strategies including establishing and managing a thorough communications engine to provide up-to-date bargaining information, media training Hospital leadership and training 150+ caregiver leaders on the dos and don’ts of discussing negotiations. Finally, we created direct responses to help address specific union rhetoric which became increasingly heated as negotiations wore on and. And, after a vote by Union membership to authorize a strike, we developed supplementary communications materials so the health system was prepared to communicate around any eventuality. 


Thanks in large part to our communications strategy, the health system was able to achieve a new three-year labor contract without a strike or lockout in 2017. Following our work in 2021, the system was again able to secure a three-year agreement with its caregivers, without a strike or work stoppage, and in the middle of one of the most significant health events in the last century and one of the most difficult nurse recruiting and retention environments in memory. The communications trainings we delivered for leaders were seen as helpful and informative, with 96% of them rating the training as “Very Good” or “Excellent” and 100% reporting they felt equipped to answer questions from caregivers and were clear on the Hospital’s overall key messages. Media coverage of the negotiations was minimal, and regularly included messaging from Sparrow to help contextualize or clarify what was taking place.