- Nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago returned to work Monday following a weeklong strike over their new contract. The two sides were unable to reach an agreement despite negotiations “that ran well into the evening” each night of the strike and planned to resume talks Monday.
- They made some progress on key issues. The hospital agreed to hire more than 200 nurses to quell staff-to-patient ratio concerns at the forefront of the strike, according to the Illinois Nurses Association. UIH also proposed slight wage increases for nurses opposed to previously offered freezes, though the union countered with larger increases, INA said.
- UIH agreed that it’s closer to making a deal on the contract despite not reaching a tentative agreement. Nurses will report to work under the existing terms of their past contract until a new deal is reached.
Nurse staffing levels have been an issue since long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the crisis has accelerated those concerns, along with labor activity, as clinicians on the front lines have faced grueling conditions.
Before the strike began, UIH said staff-patient ratios are too rigid and remove flexibility, instead favoring acuity-based models focused on “obtaining the right nurse at the right time for each patient.”
But it amended that proposal last week, now agreeing to hire 200 nurses “to improve the staffing ratio, addressing the most important issue the nurses insisted on as a primary reason to strike,” according to INA.
Illinois has a Safe Patient Limits bill before its legislature that would spell out the maximum number of patients who may be assigned to a registered nurse in specified situations. HB 2604 was introduced in February 2019 and is currently before the House rules committee, though it has not received a full vote.
On Sept. 11, the day before the UIH strike began, a judge granted a temporary restraining order forbidding nurses in certain critical care units from going on strike.
The lawsuit, filed by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, claimed a work stoppage among those nurses would endanger public safety due to the unique nature of the services provided in the units, specialized needs of patients they serve and lack of qualified substitutes to perform nurses’ duties.
About 525 nurses out of 1,400 represented by INA were barred from striking at UIH, according to the union.
Two days after UIH nurses walked off the job, service workers at the university main campus, hospital and various other facilities also went on strike.
Some 4,000 clerical, professional, technical, service and maintenance workers represented by Service Employees International Union 73 went on strike Sept. 14 over similar issues as the nurses, mainly staffing and pay.
The planned duration of the SEIU strike is unclear, though it’s been a week since it began.
“As UIC nurses return to work, we will continue our strike,” the union said in a statement. “We won’t quit until UIC respects us, protects us and pays us. Working through a pandemic and seeing our co-workers die has stiffened our resolve to fight for however long it takes to ensure the safety of all workers and those we serve.”