The NNOC/NNU is threatening a one-day strike by
nursing staff against UCMC over its position on
patient care support nurses

Nurses' union threatens strike over alleged layoffs by UCMC in Chicago

November 18, 2019
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Registered nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center are threatening to strike over a new staff proposal that they claim compromises patient safety.

The National Nurses United a union of registered U.S. nurses, and its affiliate the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC/NNU) assert that the nationally ranked academic medical center intends to eliminate the position of patient care support nurses. UCMC denies this, claiming it has proposed transitioning PCSNs to meet the union’s request for more direct bedside nursing support.

“The Union’s statements accusing us of planning to lay off 24 patient care support nurses are false,” Debra Albert, UCMC's chief nursing officer, told HCB News. “In fact, as part of our many compromises to try to avoid a second strike, we proposed adding more than 40 new positions over the next 18 months to provide nurses more support; and transitioning the 24 patient care support nurses into these and other new roles, all of which are designed to provide more support at the bedside for frontline nurses.”

PCSNs are a group of nurses who offer resources and support to staff nurses on floor. These services include putting in and filling IVs when other nurses cannot; transporting patients for testing; and in some situations, taking control of the patient's entire care for a floor nurse.

The controversy around the position stems from ongoing negotiations on a number of issues between the NNOC/NNU and the hospital, with UCMC asserting that it proposed a number of compromises to the union’s demands that included an agreement to not lay off any PCSNs. It also said it would abide by the union’s contract language, which dictates how it should decide which units would receive these new support positions.

Elaine Mister, a nurse case manager at UCMC, says the proposals by the hospital would oversee the transition of PCSNs to an IV team over the course of 18 months. She also asserts that some of the PCSNs carry more experience than the floor nurses and offer them guidance.

"You are actually going to decrease your scope of practice from being able to offer assistance to a nurse with her patient for any type of screening, radiology, testing, MRs," she told HCB News. "If a patient comes in for a broken leg and now has had a stroke, that patient needs extra care and needs to be moved to an ICU bed. While we’re waiting for that patient to be sent to an ICU bed, that patient care support nurse could have taken over for that nurse. Now you’re just going to have her start IVs. We are more than that."

The union rejected this and other proposals, and notified hospital leadership Thursday of its intention to strike for one day on November 26. It says it will continue to bargain but will strike if an impasse cannot be met. The notice was issued 10 days in advance in accordance with the law to allow UCMC to make necessary preparations for the strike, including postponing elective procedures.

If it does take place, the strike will be the second one for Chicago nurses this year. Approximately 2,200 nurses represented by the NNOC/NNU left their jobs at three hospitals in Hyde Park in September to strike in a one-day demonstration.

“This is a strike against our patients and their families,” said UCMC’s dean, Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, and president, Sharon O'Keefe in a letter to staff on Thursday. “This is a strike against our community … this is a strike against neighborhoods that rely on us for lifesaving emergency and trauma care. This is a strike against our physicians, our respiratory therapists, our pharmacists, our nursing support assistants and other clinicians who will be here during the holiday — rather than spending time with their families over Thanksgiving — to care for the patients the union is ordering our nurses to walk out on.”

Two bargaining sessions have been scheduled prior to the strike. The union and hospital also plan to meet once more on the day of the strike, as well as in two additional sessions on December 11 and 18.