Ascension workers authorize strike in Kansas

Members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United, have voted to authorize a strike at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, Kan.

The union represents about 1,000 Wichita-area nurses, including more than 650 at St. Francis, according to a news release from the NNOC/NNU. St. Francis is part of St. Louis-based Ascension.

Ninety-three percent of voting union members voted in May in favor of authorizing a strike, according to the union release. Nurses voted to unionize in November and have been in contract negotiations with management.

The union contends that during negotiations, management has not agreed to a strong contract that would adequately address issues such as safe staffing and nursing staff recruitment. 

"Nurses are patient advocates at the bedside and, when we need to be, on the strike line," Angela Cammarn, a registered nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit, said in the union release. "It's very hard to get nurses to leave their patients, but what Ascension management is doing to our facilities is simply unacceptable. We were hopeful that bargaining a strong contract would remedy our concerns, but it's clear management needs to see how serious we are about improving patient care."

In a statement shared with Becker's, the hospital said it continues to bargain in good faith "to come to a mutually beneficial agreement on an initial contract that supports all and will further our combined goal of providing safe, compassionate care to those we serve. We respect our associates' right to organize themselves through union representation and participate in a strike authorization vote."

The hospital also expressed disappointment about the strike authorization vote "given that both bargaining teams continue to work toward an initial collective bargaining agreement and have multiple sessions scheduled through the end of August."

The vote to authorize a strike does not mean a strike will occur. However, it gives the NNOC/NNU the option of calling one. The union would provide a 10-day notice to the hospital before any strike begins. 

If the hospital receives an official strike notice, St. Francis has a comprehensive contingency plan to ensure patients do not experience disruption in care or service, the hospital said. 

According to the union, a strike would be the first by registered nurses in Kansas. Nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas, have also voted to authorize a strike.

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