Ascension nurses begin strikes

Nurses at three Ascension hospitals in Texas and Kansas began one-day strikes Dec. 6, marking the second strikes for each hospital this year.

The strikes involve members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United. The union represents 800 nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas, as well as 650 nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kan., and 300 nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital, also in Wichita, according to National Nurses United. All three hospitals are part of St. Louis-based Ascension. 

Union members have been in contract negotiations at the two Wichita hospitals since February 2023 and at the 391-bed Austin hospital since November 2022. They are striking to call attention to equipment and staffing issues at their organizations, according to NNU. 

The union claims that at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, there is "a lack of functional IV pumps, hospital gowns, blankets and thermometers, as well as persistent problems with hospital-issued phones that nurses use during their shift for communication."

There are also staffing problems at the three hospitals, according to NNU. Specifically, union members are striking in response to what they deem as "management's unsafe 'floating policy'" at the Wichita hospitals, which means "nurses are assigned to units where they do not usually work and may not have the training or expertise to care for those patients." At the Austin hospital, management has proposed that labor and delivery nurses with 18 months of experience be assigned to charge roles, the union said.

"Patient safety is our top priority, and our hospitals remain open and well-prepared to continue to provide patient-centered, holistic care during these strikes," an Ascension spokesperson told Becker's on Dec. 6. "We have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure there is no disruption in service for those who are entrusted to our care. We have contracted with a staffing agency that specializes in work stoppage events and has provided us with a full complement of highly skilled and credentialed registered nurses.

"Ascension will continue to bargain in good faith with National Nurses United to come to agreement on initial contracts that support all, and we are committed to not canceling any scheduled bargaining dates. We believe that differences are best resolved respectfully at the bargaining table, and look forward to returning the focus to working together to reach agreement on fair and reasonable contracts for our registered nurses."

The Dec. 6 strikes are the second strikes for each hospital this year. Nurses at three Ascension hospitals in Texas and Kansas also went on strike in June.

The latest strikes were announced shortly after nurses' planned coordinated confrontation with hospital management Nov. 22 amid negotiations.

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