Illinois nurses on strike after stalled contract negotiations

By | July 6, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • An estimated 720 nurses at AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, went on strike Saturday after contract negotiations stalled between the hospital and nurses union. Both sides have been negotiating a new contract since early spring and nurses are currently working under a contract that expired May 9, according to the union representing the nurses, the Illinois Nurses Association.
  • Nurses at the hospital held a strike vote in May and about 90% approved, according to the union. Since negotiations began, INA has filed four unfair labor practice complaints against the hospital for alleged intimidation and coercion and for refusing to bargain in good faith.
  • A St. Joseph spokesperson told Healthcare Dive the hospital is ready to continue negotiations in good faith with unionized nurses and is prepared to deliver uninterrupted care during the strike. The two sides had a meeting on June 30 and have another planned for Wednesday.

Dive Insight:

Concerns about staff and patient safety during the pandemic, namely adequate personal protective equipment, nurse-to-patient ratios and sick pay, are leading nurses around the country to strike against their employers for better conditions. Some of them have ongoing, or upcoming contract negotiations, boosting their leverage.

At AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center, unionized nurses authorized a strike just after their contract expired in early May. Months later with negotiations at a standstill, they issued a 10-day strike notice to the hospital and its owners, including St. Louis-based chain Ascension.

Negotiations have been supervised by a federal mediator. On Friday, the hospital presented the union with its final offer. A St. Joseph spokesperson told Healthcare Dive the offer “addressed many of the issues under negotiation, including retention of extended illness benefits (EIB) and wage increases for years two and three of the contract — no three-year wage freeze — as well as tuition reimbursement and anniversary paid time off.”

But nurses still walked off the job Saturday, and it’s unclear how long the strike will last.

Nurses in other parts of the country are striking, too. An estimated 1,200 nurses at Riverside Community Hospital in southern California wrapped up a 10-day strike today and will start negotiations for a new contract with owner HCA Healthcare, the country’s largest for-profit hospital operator.

Both HCA and Ascension cite major financial losses due to the pandemic, though both contend they haven’t had to institute furloughs or layoffs as other health systems have done.

But the unions representing nurses and other healthcare workers are pointing to federal stimulus money some of the giant chains have received as evidence they could easily afford to comply with the unions’ requests.

Ascension received more than $ 200 million in federal funding to offset pandemic-related losses that it doesn’t have to pay back. HCA received the most out of all for-profit operators, with a $ 1 billion grant.

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