Over 500 participating in Joliet nurses strike over pay, treatment, safety

Joliet nurse strike began after lockout announced

Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Over 500 nurses on strike in Joliet
Over 500 nurses are participating in a Joliet strike Tuesday. Much of the nurse staff at Ascension Saint Joseph Hospital are striking over pay.

JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- Nurses hit the picket lines at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday for what they said would be a two-day strike.

"We need to be treated better; we just need them to respect nurses much better. It's just not safe anymore," longtime nurse Patti Lemke said.

And yet, the 530 nurses on strike won't be back at work until Saturday, with the hospital locking them out for two additional days.

"We are underpaid of every other hospital in the area. And, besides that, their goal is to bring in new nurses, try to split us up, the old nurses versus the new nurses, pay them more but not giving 21 years or over any raises whatsoever, not even cost-of-living raise," longtime nurse Sue Pellegrini said.

Ascension St. Joseph is Joliet's only hospital. According to union officials, they've lost over 300 nurses in the past five years, driven in large part by higher wages elsewhere.

"A lot of our nurses went across town for a 15 to 20 minute drive for at least $10, $15 more an hour," said nurse Beth Corsetti.

Patient care, they said, is being compromised.

"We don't have enough nurses. We don't have enough aides to keep patients clean. It's as simple as that," Corsetti said.

Those who remain have been working without a contract since July 19 as negotiations between the parties continue.

"This is our hospital, our home. Our patients are family," said nurse Patricia Meade.

Despite the work stoppage, the hospital continues to operate. Ascension replaced their over 500 striking nurses with contract nurses, who they said must be paid for a minimum of four days, hence the two-day lockout.

A statement issued by the company said, in part, "We have a comprehensive contingency plan in place to ensure there is no disruption in care or service for those we are privileged to serve."

"I received a text/email from staffing offering me over $7,000 to staff this hospital for four days while the nurses were on strike," said Cathy Coffey, another nurse. "We know Ascension has the money. They're willing to pay it to other people."

Joliet's mayor, Terry D'Arcy, showed up on Tuesday afternoon to express his support.

"I talked with Ascension on the 15th and said, 'If you have a strike in seven days, why aren't you at the table every day and every night working it out?" D'Arcy said.

In a statement, hospital officials said they are disappointed the group has proceeded with the strike, and have temporary nurses in place for their patients. They said they have been bargaining in good faith with the INA.

For now, bargaining talks are not scheduled to resume until Sept. 8.

D'Arcy's statement:

"A little over a month ago, I asked the Director of Labor Relations for Ascension, to do all it could to protect the patients they serve in Joliet's only hospital. I asked them to listen to their own care teams and bring staffing levels back to pre-pandemic levels. Losing 40% of nurses in five years is not acceptable and puts lives at risk.

Instead, Ascension has walked away from negotiations and will 'Lock Out' their own nurses from August 22 through August 26. Such tactics will force experienced nurses to look for other employment and will create turnover and unsafe conditions for the very patients they are responsible for serving.

As a businessman, I understand the need to balance finances and operations and lead people in the workforce. I have negotiated labor contracts and worked with unions and management. In my dealerships and other businesses, I treat my workers fairly and with respect and listen to those on the front lines.

Thankfully, we have never had a strike or work stoppage in any of my dealerships or businesses.

Nurses take an oath to devote themselves to the welfare of those committed to their care. It is time for Ascension to negotiate in good faith and not replace dedicated and experienced staff with per diem replacements.

I urge you to come back to the negotiating table and resolve this dispute for the well-being of Joliet's residents and the region."