ILLINOIS MEDICAL DISTRICT — With contract negations at an impasse, more than 800 nurses will go on a seven-day strike at the University of Illinois Hospital starting Saturday.
On the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, the nurses are seeking safer working conditions, including limits on the number of patients they care for. But those demands are being ignored, leaders of the Illinois Nursing Association said during a virtual press conference Friday morning.
After more than 20 meetings, INA President Doris Carroll said the university opted to file a lawsuit to prevent a strike rather than “come to the table and bargain effectively and fairly.”
Carroll said nurses have risked their lives throughout the pandemic the hospital was not properly protecting its staff.
“We are outraged and we will go on strike,” Carroll said.
In a statement, Michael Zenn, CEO, University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics, said he hoped a deal could be made Friday to avert a strike.
“UI Health will do everything reasonably within our power to avert a strike and are prepared to continue bargaining for as long as it takes to reach a successful agreement with INA,” Zenn said.
“UI Health values and respects the critical role our nurses and other healthcare professionals in providing vital care for our community. We are hopeful that both parties will reach a fair and equitable new contract that continues our tradition of generous wages and fair working conditions for our valuable nursing colleagues while being fiscally sustainable for the hospital.”
The existing contract between the nurses union and the hospital expired in August but was extended until Sept. 7. Nurses voted to strike amid ongoing negotiations last month.
Board of Trustees Sues Nurses Union
Earlier this week, the University of Illinois board of trustees filed a lawsuit to try to stop nurses at the hospital from striking. In the lawsuit, UI Health said a strike of nurses in “12 operational units of UI Health would cause a clear and present danger to public health and safety.”
A Cook County judge granted the hospital’s request Friday to bar critical care nurses represented by the union from striking.
The court order means 535 nurses from units such as medical/surgical, COVID, transplant, intensive care, labor and delivery and psychiatry will not be allowed to walk off the job.
Union leaders said it was ironic hospital leaders recognized the necessity of nurses’ expertise, but they have not come to the table in good faith.
“They are concerned about the health and safety of the patients and the communities we serve and yet they won’t come to the table to talk about staffing issues, instead file this injunction,” Carroll said.
The union previously called for more personal protection equipment and broader safeguards at the hospital after 12 nurses tested positive for coronavirus in March. To date, the union claims more than 200 nurses have tested positive for coronavirus.
Nurse Laurie Christopher said the hospital “is responsible to provide a safe environment, not only for nurses but also for patients. They have failed.”
Since the pandemic, Nurse Eileen Fajardo- Furlin said it’s been “very chaotic” with a lack of communication. A fellow nurse on Fajardo-Furlin’s unit died of coronavirus, she said.
Despite the court order, Fajardo-Furlin said they are fighting to keep patients and fellow nurses safe.
“Time and time again, we were put in harms way when we didn’t need to be,” she said. “We are asking for patients safety and nurses safety.”
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