U of I Hospital nurses' strike continues, with SEIU Local 73 workers join picket lines

ByAlexis McAdams WLS logo
Monday, September 14, 2020
University of Illinois Hospital nurses strike continues , with SEIU Local 73 workers join picket lines
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Some SEIU members walked off the job Monday, joining striking nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- University of Illinois Hospital nurses on strike are getting a show of solidarity on Monday as they are joined by hundreds of SEIU-73 members.

The nurses walked off the job over the weekend. The Illinois Nurses Association Union is demanding a comprehensive contract that includes better staffing levels, higher pay, and more personal protective equipment.

Leaders say it is the first strike for the union at UIC Medical Center in more than four decades.

"We are warriors in this fight," said Doris Carrol, President of the Illinois Nurses Association. "During the pandemic, our hospital called us heroes and now they are treating us like zeros."

Also, the union says 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.

"In an ICU - an ICU nurse should have no more than two patients," Carrol said. "However, if a patient comes in and needs one to one care then the nurses will switch assignments."

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."

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.

Union leaders say more than 4,000 SEIU Local 73 members across Illinois are without a contract for a year.

The hospital staff are made up of various positions negotiating their own contract. The local 73 sticking points are better, pay, more PPE, and better staffing.

The unions both say safety of the staff and patients remains the top priority.

"These workers showed up time and time again through the pandemic when Chicago was basically closed and these workers came to," said Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Local 73.

"Working in the ER I do not know what is going to come in that door and they send me out or us out there in simple masks," said Danuel Culliver-Dodd, an EMT at UIC ER. "We need proper PPE."

As talks continue, a rally is expected to take place at noon.

Full statement from Zenn on nurse strike:

"We are disappointed that despite progress in this week's lengthy negotiations, including a 14-hour session on Friday, September 11, we were not able to reach an agreement with the INA.

"Over the past three months, UI Health and the INA have participated in more than 20 negotiating sessions, more than half of those under the guidance of federal mediators. When it comes to the top issues that matter to nurses-compensation, staffing, and safety and security-the generous offers summarized here reflect our respect and commitment to supporting our nurses, while recognizing challenging economic realities laid bare by the COVID pandemic.

"We believe we have been fair and generous to the INA throughout negotiations and in our last offer, reflecting our respect and commitment to our nursing colleagues.

"UI Health supports a patient acuity-based staffing model. Our staffing proposal focuses on obtaining the right nurse at the right time to care for each patient, so we can achieve the highest level of safety, quality, service and health outcomes. The INA is demanding one-size-fits-all staffing ratios that are too rigid and remove flexibility. Fixed staffing ratios ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift-to-shift basis and result in longer Emergency Department wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services, and higher operating costs.

Our nurses deserve top compensation-and they receive it. On average, UI Health nurses earn over $20,000 a year more in base hourly compensation than their counterparts. Under our last offer, UI Health nurses would remain in the top 10% for pay compared to their peers in Chicago, Illinois and throughout the U.S.

Our nurses are critical to UI Health's mission of clinical excellence and safe patient care. We are in the midst of a pandemic and maintaining adequate staffing for critical health care functions is even more urgent in these times. While we fully respect our nurses' right to strike, we believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of UI Health or our patients. We hope the INA will join us in negotiations today and as often as possible to work toward a new agreement and to end this strike.

"UI Health is taking every step necessary to ensure our patients' continued care and safety during the INA strike.

"We have initiated our internal emergency management team, which will be monitoring and responding to all potential challenges during the strike to ensure safe patient care and collaboration with our external partners, including IDPH."

"We have engaged an agency to onboard more than 600 qualified nurses and health care professionals from external sources to support our mission and care delivery."

"We have obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent some critical care nurses, for whom there are no similarly qualified agency substitutes, from participating in the strike so that our most vulnerable patients receive the care they need. Approximately 114 nurses are prevented from striking at any given time.

"We have taken action to temporarily limit our inpatient census, including going on ambulance bypass, declining transfer requests from other hospitals, canceling elective procedures and surgeries, and we are working with nearby hospitals in the event that any of our patients require a transfer.

"Our outpatient clinics remain open during regular hours, and all urgent patients will be seen. Clinic appointment capacity will be adjusted to reflect staffing and ensure safe patient care.

"We remain committed to addressing key issues and believe much can be resolved through further dialogue. We have offered to meet this weekend and next week for as long as it takes to resolve the outstanding issues and reach a fair and equitable agreement."

Full statement from Zorn on SEIU strike:

"We are disappointed that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 -- with four bargaining units representing 4,000 Clerical, Technical, Service & Maintenance, and Professional employees across the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus and at UI Health -- has announced a strike starting Monday, September 14.

"SEIU Local 73 represents 183 job titles at UIC, ranging from accountants, parking services agents and cashiers to lab animal caretakers, emergency medical technicians and physical therapists across the Chicago campus and at UI Health, as well as the regional campuses, and UIC Specialized Care for Children.

"We have been negotiating to reach fair and fiscally responsible multiyear contract agreements with the four separate units for many months (ranging from ten months to over 14 months depending on the contract date). In March, SEIU requested a bargaining hiatus due to COVID-19; at UIC's urging, we resumed negotiations in May. Since early summer, we have met multiple times with each unit, including lengthy negotiations with each this week. Despite good progress, and many bargaining sessions under the guidance of a federal mediator, we were not able to reach an agreement with the SEIU.

"To date, we have reached tentative agreement on almost all non-economic issues, and it has only been in recent weeks that the parties began to discuss economic proposals in earnest. UIC has proposed that salary increases for SEIU employees align with the campus wage program (announced annually by the University President for non-union employees), plus existing annual "step" salary increases for all bargaining units except Professional; these annual increases generally exceed the rate of inflation. There is guaranteed money for each member for each year of the contract, despite the challenging economic realities laid bare by the COVID pandemic. Our fair and reasonable offers are summarized here: https://seiunegotiations.uic.edu/

"We greatly value and respect our SEIU colleagues and the critical roles they play in our campus community, which is why we have worked hard to seek a fair and fiscally sound agreement. It was important to us to retain and pay all staff throughout the pandemic, even those whose roles were partially or fully diminished while some routine operations were suspended.

"In the meantime, UIC has prepared contingency plans in the event of a strike, including:

"UIC sought and secured an injunction in the Circuit Court of Cook County, preventing urgently needed members of the SEIU Local 73 from participating in the strike. This injunction applies only to a small number of SEIU workers that were narrowly identified because a work stoppage would create a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public.

"We have been safely onboarding temporary healthcare support staff from outside agencies to ensure all campus operations run smoothly during the duration of the strike. For any out-of-state workers, we are exceeding the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) requirements for travel of essential workers by requiring COVID testing of any worker from a designated hotspot state before they begin working in our facilities.

"While we fully respect our employees' right to strike, we believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of the campus community. We remain committed to addressing key issues and believe much can be resolved through further dialogue. We are scheduled to resume bargaining on Tuesday, and we hope the SEIU will join us in negotiations as often as possible to work toward a new agreement and to end this strike."