Ascension nurses go on 2-day strike

Members of the Illinois Nurses Association began a two-day strike Nov. 21 at Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet (Ill.), their second two-day strike in three months.

The union represents more than 500 nurses at the facility. The hospital is part of St. Louis-based Ascension, one of the nation's largest nonprofit and Catholic hospital systems, with about 140 hospitals and other healthcare facilities in 19 states. 

Union members previously voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a series of strikes if needed, according to an INA news release shared with Becker's. On Nov. 10, they announced the first of this potential series of strikes will take place during Thanksgiving week. The union and hospital have been in negotiations since May. 

Union members contend that hospital management has failed to reach an agreement with the union on wages in members' three-year contract. The union also alleges its members are faced with unsafe patient loads and chronic understaffing at the hospital.

"All we want to do is work in an environment that doesn't feel actively dangerous," nurse Robyn Richards said in a union news release. "Ascension is trying to force us to agree to take on jobs we are untrained for and accept a pay scale that will continue to lose staff to nearby hospitals. We are striking because that just won't work for this hospital or for Joliet." 

Ascension emphasized its focus on safe, high-quality patient care.

"Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet is well prepared to remain open and care for our patients during this unfortunate short-term strike," a spokesperson said in a statement shared with Becker's.

Ascension also said it has contracted with a staffing agency that specializes in work stoppage events and will provide access to replacement nurses. Ascension has committed to a minimum of four days of work for any registered nursing staff replaced, starting from the first day of a strike. This means Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet represented registered nurses will be temporarily replaced starting Nov. 21 and will be able to return to their scheduled shifts beginning the morning of Nov. 25.

"Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet will continue to bargain in good faith and is committed to not canceling any scheduled bargaining sessions," a health system spokesperson said. "In addition, we urge INA to work through the mediator at any time to pass proposals as we continue to focus on reaching agreement on a new contract for our registered nurses."

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