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Nurses as AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center File 10-Day Strike Notice
Jun 23, 2020
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Nurses as AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center File 10-Day Strike Notice

Nurses as AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center File 10-Day Strike Notice

Nurses represented by the Illinois Nurses Association who work at AMITA St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Ill., have filed a 10-day notice that could see the nurses strike as early as July 4th. In May, the nurses voted 558 to 53 to authorize an unfair labor practice strike.

INA represents more than 720 nurses who work at the hospital. Both sides have been in negotiations on a new contract since early Spring. The current contract expired May 9th and negotiations have been supervised by a federal mediator.

The two sides are still far apart. According to Pat Meade, RN, one of the nurse negotiators, the most recent contract proposal from AMITA management is in some ways worse than its first offer.

“AMITA proposed a three-year wage freeze whereas INA has offered wage increases more closely tied to cost of living increases. They are unwilling to act on nurses recommendations to improve staffing and patient care, which is a top priority for our members,” she said. “We presented AMITA’s offer to our members and 89 percent rejected it.”

Negotiations between the two parties have not gone smoothly. INA has filed four unfair labor practice complaints against the hospital for intimidation and coercion and for refusing to bargain in good faith.

AMITA’s Final Offer:

  • A three-year wage freeze at current pay levers, bonuses the first year $500 FT/$250 PT/$200 IHRs. If AMITA decides to allow other employees to get their merit increase, then RNs also get merit increases.
  • Extended Illness Bank and anniversary bonus PTO grandfathered for current bargaining unit nurses but eliminated for future nurses.
  • Staffing:  Establish a recruitment committee, Weekend Program as union proposed (several contracts earlier), but no to ratios or improved staffing plans, no to free charge nurse on nights, critical incentive program for all extra shifts during critical times paid $10 per hour unit, $12.50 per hour for nurses who float.
  • Health insurance premium contribution caps at 25% for FT and 35% PT.
  • Good Friday and MLK Day holidays added if INA withdraws our arbitration for 2020 holiday pay.
  • INA must withdraw its Unfair Labor Practice complaints.
  • Flu vaccines side letter remains the same.

In contrast, the INA has proposed the following contract:

  • Wage increase totals (step increase and a general COLA) 2%, 3.5%, 3.5%.
  • Extended Illness Bank and Paid Time Off Anniversary Bonus remain as-is, including for future nurses.
  • Staffing:  gradually introduced staffing minimums by care (4 is the maximum patient limit), hours per patient day (the measurement of hours of direct patient care given) cannot include non-patient care staff, enforceable staffing plans, variance reports provided to the Staffing and Acuity Committee, Weekend Program (what we had several contracts ago), charge nurse on nights does not take patients on top of the charge nurse job, critical incentive program for all extra shifts during critical times paid at 150%.
  • Schedule changes are made by mutual agreement or inverse seniority.
  • Health insurance caps at 25% full time, 30% part time.
  • Good Friday and MLK Day holidays added to the contract.
  • Any improved pay or benefits given to non-union AMITA employees extended to our RNs.
  • AMITA cannot make any changes in pay, benefits or working conditions without first bargaining with the union.
  • Flu vaccine side letter remains the same.

Negotiations took a downward turn on June 12, when AMITA proposed an elimination of INA’s wage scale and withdrew its proposed wage increases that were on the table, said Pat Meade, RN.

COVID-19 hangs over the negotiations as nurses want to retain the Extended Illness Bank benefit, which allows nurses to be paid for any illness or injury more than four days, a crucial period of time for frontline health care workers at heightened risk of COVID-19 infections. The benefit allows a nurse up to 12 weeks of sick pay. However, according to Meade, the hospital wants to eliminate the benefit and replace it with an insurance plan that would only provide half the pay nurses currently earn.

AMITA was clear that their proposed wage freeze and elimination of extended illness benefits was not due to inability to pay, but blamed the COVID pandemic for their decision, she added.

AMITA’s parent company Ascension received more than $200 million from the federal government as part of the COVID-19 pandemic relief effort. The New York Times reported that “The St. Louis-based Ascension Health, which operates 150 hospitals nationwide, has received at least $211 million from Health and Human Services. The company, with $15.5 billion in cash, operates a venture capital fund and an investment advisory firm that helps other companies manage their money. Even if Ascension stopped generating any revenue whatsoever — a doomsday scenario — it would have enough cash to fully operate for nearly eight months.”

Meade said the two sides are scheduled to meet again with management on June 30th and July 8th.

“AMITA’s proposal and bargaining tactics can only be described as greedy and aggressive ,” said Alice Johnson, executive director of the INA. “While AMITA nurses work on the front line at considerable risk to their health and wellbeing, AMITA is trying to squeeze them financially and take away important sick time benefits the nurses need….While the nurse bargaining team has spent months trying to get basic minimum staffing levels that patients deserve, AMITA management refuses to negotiate in good faith,” Johnson said.

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