Ascension nurses to return to work after strike

Nurses who went on strike at three Ascension hospitals in Texas and Kansas are slated to return to their scheduled shifts beginning the morning of July 1.

The strike involved members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United. The union represents 900 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. All three hospitals are part of St. Louis-based Ascension. 

Union members went on strike June 27. The union and hospitals have been in negotiations for months. The union contends that during contract negotiations, Ascension management has dismissed nurses' solutions for patient safety, including their proposals to enforce safe staffing and improve nurse recruitment and retention. Ascension said in news releases that management has been bargaining in good faith and will honor scheduled bargaining dates.

In preparation for the strike, Ascension has contracted with a staffing agency that specializes in work stoppage events, according to hospital news releases.

Ascension said the contract requires a commitment of a minimum of four days of work for any registered nursing staff replaced, starting from the first day of a strike. 

The health system added that Ascension Seton Medical Center, Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Hospital and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital nurses who chose not to work June 27 would be temporarily replaced and would be able to return to their scheduled shifts beginning the morning of July 1.

"Our sites of care remain open and continue to provide patient-centered, holistic care without interruption to the communities we serve," Ascension said in a statement shared with Becker's June 29. "We had a strong contingent of registered nurses who chose to not participate in the strike event and who continue to provide exceptional care to our patients alongside the highly skilled and credentialed replacement staff we were required to contract with for this short-term strike event."

Union members have condemned these plans as "punitive attempts by management at union-busting."

"We're ready to go back to work, just like we're ready to settle a contract that gives us what we need to take care of our patients," Marvin Ruckle, RN, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, said in a June 28 union news release. "Management's efforts to bust our union won't work. We unionized to fight for our patients, and these attempts to retaliate against nurses aren’t going to stop us."

Nurses said they would prepare for a return-to-work rally on July 1.

"We look forward to welcoming our registered nurses back to their units on Saturday, July 1, once our contractual obligation has been fulfilled for our replacement staff," Ascension's statement said. "We have received many positive comments from our physicians, patients and families on the competency and expertise of our replacement nurses, and we are grateful to them for their efforts."

The statement added: "Notwithstanding this disheartening strike, we will continue to negotiate in good faith to come to a mutually beneficial agreement on an initial contract that respects the human dignity and rights of all. We look forward to returning the focus to resolving issues at the bargaining table and reaching agreement on a fair and reasonable collective bargaining agreement for our registered nurses."

According to the union, the strikes were the largest nurses strikes in Texas and Kansas state history.

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