WOODLAWN — More than 2,200 University of Chicago Medical Center nurses have notified the hospital of their intent to strike for a second time this year Nov. 26.
The most recent bargaining sessions on Nov. 7 and 11 have not led to a new contract, union officials said. Two bargaining sessions are scheduled in advance of the strike date, leaving the possibility of a resolution before another strike.
National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United and hospital leadership had also been scheduled to meet the day the strike is now set to begin.
The strike vote follows a Sept. 20 strike which led to a five-day lockout, as the medical center opted to hire replacement nurses with a five-day contract. The union has proposed a one-day strike and says there’s been no word on a lockout of any length.
The nurses’ union contends the hospital is short-staffed to the point where patients are not properly cared for. At a September rally, striking nurses said assaults from patients and their families are a growing problem, often due to their frustrations over the quality of care.
Hospital and union leadership agree on one thing: There’s been little progress to negotiations since the initial strike.
Hospital officials say they’ve offered “significant compromises” on the main points of contention in recent meetings, only to have them all rejected by the union.
Executive Vice President Kenneth Polonsky and President Sharon O’Keefe derided the union’s “inflexible demands.”
“Once again, rather than stay at the table and engage in the hard work of reaching the compromises that will produce a new contract, the Union is ordering nurses to walk out on their patients and their co-workers during a holiday,” their statement reads.
Nurses would rather work on Thanksgiving — as they would have to regardless — than strike so soon before the holiday, nurse Elaine Mister said. She works in the emergency room and is a member of the union’s bargaining team.
But she said the union will remain firm on its “key issues,” including retaining incentive pay for new hires, ensuring arbitration for staffing disputes and preventing the proposed elimination of patient care support nurses.
“Our biggest argument is that we don’t have enough nurses,” Mister said. Without proper staffing, “we can’t provide adequate care for our patients.”
The union has hope for a resolution and a new contract before the strike date and is willing to meet “any time, any day up until the day of the strike,” Mister said. Their next scheduled meeting is Nov. 21.
After returning to work in September, staff nurse and bargaining team representative Grazyna Cohen said there would be another strike vote if the nurses’ concerns were not addressed, but not before an attempt to continue negotiations.
A bill in the state House would place a limit on number of patients that may be assigned to a registered nurse, which has been one of the union’s main sticking points. The bill has stalled in the Rules Committee since May 31.
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