CHICAGO (WLS) -- Striking nurses at University of Illinois Hospitals say they are being replaced by nurses the hospital is shipping in from COVID-19 hot spots.
The strike is entering its second day after more than 800 nurses walked off the job and onto the picket line at UIC Medical Center Saturday after contract negotiations broke down over nurse-to-patient ratios.
Dozens of nurses began picketing around the hospital at 7 a.m. after more than 20 bargaining sessions.
Around 1,300 nurses originally planned to walk off the job, but a judge granted a temporary restraining order Friday limiting that number after the hospital filed a lawsuit citing patient safety concerns.
The nurses say there needs to be a set limit on how many patients a single nurse is treating at any one time, while the hospital believes a set nurse to patient ratios do not work.
"Daycare operators have ratios, right. You can't have more than eight or nine infants. Dog kennels have ratios," said Doris Carroll, president of the Illinois Nurses Association and a University of Illinois Health nurse. "Why can't hospitals have ratios?"
Carroll acknowledged the union proposal would require more full-time nurses, but she argued that it was necessary.
"We have two decades of research to support that having adequate nurses at the bedside will prevent falls, will prevent infections, will prevent deaths-- in a hospital mind you," Carroll said.
In a statement, Michael Zenn, CEO of University of Illinois Hospital, said he "values and respects" these nurses' work but argues ratios "...ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift-to-shift basis. Nurse staffing ratios also result in longer Emergency Department (ED) wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services and higher operating costs."
The union also claimed Saturday that UIC is looking to bring in strikebreakers.
"UIC is bringing in workers from states with higher COVID-19 transmission rates to break a strike from a workforce complaining that management risks worker and patient lives due to inconsistent COVID-19 safety protocol enforcement, " said Dian Palmer, SEIU Local 73 President. "We want to come to an agreement that is fair and just for UIC workers, but we're also ready to strike. UIC workers are not only fighting for their livelihoods, but for their lives, the safety of their families, and the communities being served."
UIC Office of Public Affairs responded and said, "We are working with an agency for contingency staffing, which includes access to 50+ affiliated agencies across the state and nation. The agency staff are undergoing the same health and temperature screening as all of our employees. We are following all infection prevention measures to ensure staff and patients are safe."
Despite the weather, the union president said the nurses picketed until 10 p.m. Saturday night.