University of Illinois files lawsuit to stop nurses from striking

The University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago said it has filed a lawsuit to prevent certain critical care nurses from striking in the event of a walkout by union members. 

On Sept. 2, the Illinois Nurses Association announced that about 1,300 members will begin a seven-day strike Sept. 12 unless there is a breakthrough in contract negotiations.

The lawsuit filed Sept. 8 seeks to stop certain union-represented critical care nurses from striking because allowing them to do so "would create a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public," Michael Zenn, CEO of University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics, said in a statement Sept. 9.

The three-year contract between the Illinois Nurses Association and the hospital expired Aug. 24 but was extended to September. Staffing has been a key issue in negotiations. The union advocates for limiting the number of patients assigned to each nurse, while the hospital supports a patient acuity-based staffing model.

In its lawsuit, the hospital says units nurses work in — including the neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, The Center for Women's Health, hematology oncology clinic and labor and delivery unit — provide critical services, and a strike by nurses in these units would put public health or safety at risk, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The lawsuit also alleges the union declined hospital negotiators' request to exclude nurses scheduled to work in those units from the proposed work stoppage, and that the union's strike notice came too late for the hospital to hire nurses to temporarily replace striking ones or to safely conduct patient transfers, according to the report.

The Illinois Nurses Association called for the hospital to drop the lawsuit.

"The lawsuit alleges UIH nurses should not be allowed to strike because they are irreplaceable. Yet UIH refuses to offer protections from the pandemic," the union said in a news release provided to Becker's Hospital Review.

"It is also important to point out that this is an unfair labor practice strike motivated in part by UIH's failure to bargain in good faith … If UIH is serious about nurses being irreplaceable, it should drop the lawsuit and return to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith."

Additional bargaining sessions are scheduled throughout this week.

This article was updated at 2:36 p.m. CDT on Sept. 9. 

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