More than 1,000 nurses at the University of Illinois’ Hospital (UIH) in Chicago are set to strike for a week starting Sept. 12, following a breakdown in negotiations over a new contract. The three-year-contract they were under expired Aug. 24 and was extended until Monday.
The Illinois Nurses Association said safe staffing is the most important issue in the new contract. The two sides held 16 negotiating sessions throughout the summer, “though little progress has been made toward a new contract,” INA said in a release.
Authorizing a strike doesn’t mean it will definitely happen, and UIH said it will do everything in its power to avert a work stoppage. The hospital had negotiations with the union and a federal mediator this week, the hospital said in a statement.
Nurses aren’t the only employees planning to strike at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago.
Clerical, professional, technical, service and maintenance workers, represented by another union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 73, are also planning to strike Sept. 14, an SEIU 73 spokesperson said.
The two unions have been working on separate contract negotiations, though they share grievances against their hospital employer, namely adequate staffing.
The nurses union has pressed for setting a limit on the number of patients that can be assigned to each nurse.
The issue is a frequent concern for hospital staff, one expert said. “Staffing is pretty much at the center of every nurse labor dispute now,” Rebecca Givan, associate professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, said.
Nurses at HCA’s Riverside Community Hospital in California went on strike in June over the end of a staffing agreement they’d bargained for.
And in July, nurses at AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, also went on strike amid stalled contract negotiations. Those nurses, also represented by INA, cited staff and patient safety concerns, including adequate personal protective equipment, nurse-to-patient ratios and sick pay.
The AMITA nurses soon after signed a new contract with their employer, though their safe staffing requests were still unmet, according to a union release. “No matter how long the nurses stayed out on the unfair labor practice strike, AMITA would not agree to accountability for safe staffing,” the group said.
“The nurses decided to continue the fight for safe staffing in Springfield and by educating the public on why safe staffing is so badly needed at the hospital,” INA said.
The union is pushing for the passage of the Safe Patient Limits Act-House Bill that would mandate nurse-patient staffing ratios in the state.
According to the American Nurses Association, while state legislatures have attempted to address nurse staffing levels, California is currently the only state that mandates minimum nurse to patient ratios to be maintained at all times by unit.