JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- Nurses at AMITA Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet went on strike Saturday morning in the hospital's first nurses strike since 1993.
The Illinois Nurse Association walked away from negotiations with Amita Health St. Joseph Medical Center. They claimed the hospital's latest contract offer falls short on crucial demands.
The nurses walked off the job at 6 a.m. due to "unfair labor practices committed by the hospital and failure to reach an agreement, preservation of sick leave, PTO benefits, and fair wages," according to a press release.
Their contract expired in May, with neither side coming to an agreement.
One nurse negotiator told ABC7 that they've been giving their 150%, even under the COVID-19 pandemic, but staffing remains a major sticking point.
"Every patient is different. They come to the hospital with issues and illnesses that demand that they require additional patient care and time by their nurses," said Registered Nurse Pat Meade.
"It did not include safe safe staffing and to the amounts of the degrees in which we needed to do," Meade said.
The hospital has been working to hire temporary nurses.
The union said short-staffing could potentially put patient health in jeopardy.
The contracts has been a point of contention for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it.
Jeanine Johnson works in the St.Joseph ICUs. She said the hospital funneled extra resources into the COVID-19 ICU, which was understandable, but that left the other intensive care unit vulnerable.
"That has been horribly understaffed having three patients to one nurse in intensive care," Johnson said.
Johnson claimed the current staffing plans are because of government funding.
"It's not, you know, the extra care that's needed for these patients," she said. "It's the subsidies."
Amita Health said it has addressed many of the union's demands.
"We have supported all our associates in many ways throughout the pandemic, including pay continuance and temporary premium pay for our frontline workers most affected, but like other health systems we have had to make some difficult decisions," they said in a statement.
AMITA Health calls its latest offer the final one and will remain ready to return to "good-faith" negotiations, but promised patient care will not be interrupted.
The next negotiation session is scheduled for Wednesday, July 8.
AMITA Health St. Joseph nurses walk off job in first strike since 1993