KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Nurses at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo are warning they could strike as a dispute over their contract continues.

Thursday will mark the first meeting between the hospital system and union since the nurses held a rally Nov. 12 to call for better contract terms.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to make some progress at the table,” Lori Batzloff, the president of the local chapter of the Michigan Nurses Association, said Wednesday.

But if an agreement is not made by the end of this week, local MNA members will vote next week on whether to authorize an official strike.

“If Ascension continues to demand takeaways from the nurses, the nurses need to be prepared to take action,” Batzloff said.

Batzloff said some of the things the hospital system wants to take away include guaranteed leave policies, including family medical leave, for part-time nurses and health retirement accounts. Nurses would also be required to work every other weekend under the current proposal.

“There hasn’t been any movement on any cost-of-living increases for nurses and any effort to retain nurses that have years of experience and have dedicated many years to this community here at Ascension,” Batzloff added.

When not looking after patients at Ascension Borgess, Amanda Hobbs is doing the same for her 15-year-old daughter Lilly, who has autism.

“They (people with autism) have such a hard time regulating themselves in social environments. A person with autism self-injuring themselves … it can really be very disturbing,” Hobbs said.

Ascension Borgess’s Family and Medical Leave Act policy — a chief reason Hobbs took the job five years ago — has allowed her to be there with her daughter when she is in need.

“Sometimes, quite frankly, there is no one that can calm her down except for me,” Hobbs explained. “Sometimes, she just needs me to be there to recenter herself so that she can stop hurting herself, stop lashing out at other people or hurt their environment, or lashing out at the environment itself.”

Without the paid leave, Hobbs, a single mother, is scared she would be fired simply for looking after Lilly.

“The fear of not being able to take time off of work to care for my daughter if she needs it, of possibly losing my job and facing that financial hardship … is very real for me,” she added. “It’s really concerning.”

But she said she is not afraid to take a stand.

“As scared as I am about my personal financial situation, I think it’s important to stand up for that right now, so I am willing to do what needs to be done,” she said.

Batzloff defines “progress” in contract negotiations as retaining the paid leave and required work hours from the previous contract, plus adding better wages and retention bonuses for more experienced nurses who are training new hires.

“We have carried this community through COVID. We continue to carry this hospital through short-staffing,” Batzloff said. “We can’t do it much longer.”

News 8 reached out Wednesday morning to Ascension Borgess for comment on the union’s announcement but did not hear back before close of business.