by John R. Fischer
, Senior Reporter | July 08, 2020
More than 700 nurses are protesting over what they say are “unfair labor practices” committed by AMITA St. Joseph’s Medical Center.
The 720 nurses began picketing on July 4, after the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) walked away from negotiations with the Joliet, Illinois-based healthcare system. Among their complaints are alleged illegal activities, including intimidation and threats of termination to prevent nurses from exercising their rights under federal law, as well as refusal by AMITA to discuss the INA’s proposals for staffing the hospital with enough nurses to care for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients safely.
“AMITA is prepared to spend millions of dollars fighting the nurses’ union but refuses to invest in hiring enough nurses to provide safe care for the patients,” said Pat Meade, RN, a lead union nurse who has been involved in all the negotiations, in a statement.
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The most recent contract for AMITA nurses expired in May. A scheduled meeting last week to negotiate the terms of a new deal, including ideas for addressing the stuffing crisis, was “abruptly” cancelled, with the hospital refusing to reschedule it, according to the INA.
The association has accused the hospital of engaging in illegal bargaining tactics and of routinely violating staffing guidelines that determine how many patients a nurse is assigned. They assert that the hospital assigns nurses more patients than is safe, which studies show increases risks to each patient’s health.
The INA is seeking for AMITA to use charge nurses in medically appropriate situations to help nurses with their patient assignments. In response, AMITA has hired temporary and out-of-state nurses to provide "uninterrupted, high quality care and service" to patients. It asserts that it has addressed many of the union’s demands and says that it is "disappointed" by the union's decision to strike.
"AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet stands ready to continue negotiations in good faith with our nurse members of the Illinois Nurse Association (INA) on a new contract," Timothy A. Nelson, system director of communications and media relations for AMITA Health, told HCB News. "The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic impact on hospitals and health systems throughout the United States, and AMITA Health is no different. We have supported all our associates in many ways throughout the pandemic, including pay continuance and temporary premium pay for our frontline workers most affected, but like other health systems we have had to make some difficult decisions."
Meade says the cost of transportation, hotel lodgings, hospital overhead, and administrative expenses for out-of-state nurses to replace the 720 nurses on strike would be a waste of $5 million per week. She also says the nurses being brought in are from North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Colorado, which are states coping with surging COVID-19 infection rates.
“AMITA could increase the nursing staff by 10% for one full year for what they are wasting in one week on luxury buses, out-of-state replacement nurses and high-priced lawyers,” she said.
Neither the nurses nor the INA have said how long the strike will last.