Ascension workers authorize strike in Texas

Members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee — an affiliate of National Nurses United — have voted to authorize a strike at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas.

The union represents 900 nurses at the hospital, according to a news release from the NNOC/NNU. Ascension Seton Medical Center is part of St. Louis-based Ascension.

Ninety-eight percent of voting union members voted May 31 and June 1 in favor of authorizing a strike, according to the union release. Nurses voted to unionize in September and have been in contract negotiations since November. 

The union contends that during negotiations, management has delayed responses to nurses' contract proposals, which it says would improve nurse recruitment and retention and ensure safe staffing levels on each unit. Union members also contend that management is putting profits before patients. 

"Our patients can't wait any longer," Lindsay Spinney, BSN, RN, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, said in the union release. "Nurses are sending a message to management with this overwhelming strike authorization that we are ready to do what it takes to win a strong contract that protects our patients' safety."

In a statement shared with Becker's, the hospital said its "highest priority remains the safety and well-being of the patients, associates and communities we are privileged to serve." Ascension Seton also pointed to its "A" safety grade from The Leapfrog Group. Leapfrog grades evaluate hospitals' performance on up to 22 patient safety measures from CMS, the Leapfrog Hospital survey and other supplemental sources. 

"As healthcare systems across the U.S. continue to experience nursing shortages, we have a robust workforce development program focused on recruiting and retaining nurses through our residency and fellowship program, our nurse scholarship program and partnerships with more than 40 schools of nursing, as well as community partnerships," the hospital said. 

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 a strike occurs, it would be the first nurses strike in an acute-care setting and the largest nurses strike in Texas history, the union said.

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