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University of Chicago Medical Center nurses return to work after strike

More than 2,000 University of Chicago Medical Center nurses went on strike Sept. 20.

More than 2,000 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center, represented by National Nurses United, strike outside the South Side hospital, Friday morning, Sept. 20, 2019.
More than 2,000 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center, represented by National Nurses United, strike outside the South Side hospital, Friday morning, Sept. 20, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

University of Chicago Medical Center nurses are back at work Wednesday after a strike.

More than 2,000 nurses who went on strike last week returned to the hospital at 7 a.m., according to Ashley Here, a spokesman for UChicago Medicine.

“We’re hopeful that the strike sent a clear message,” Brian Kelly, a pediatric intensive care nurse, said Tuesday before heading in to work the night shift. “So many of us feel utterly disrespected and not listened to and that has to change, clearly.”

Both sides agreed to return to the bargaining table Sept. 30, the university said.

Nurses with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United went on strike Sept. 20. The union called for a one-day strike, but the hospital locked them out for five days, and ambulances were put on bypass.

According to the university, the nurses’ union is threatening a second strike if an agreement can’t be reached when negotiations resume.

“Unfortunately, the union’s talk of another strike isn’t surprising, since NNOC/NNU has made it clear that their primary interest is in striking rather than in reaching a new contract,” Debi Albert, chief nursing officer and senior vice president for patient care services, said. “When we return to the table next week, we will pick up where we left off before the strike interrupted our discussions. Sadly, all of the issues that divided us remain on the table.”

The Illinois National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United did not respond to a request for comment.

Staffing levels were a primary concern for the union. The hospital proposed adding more than 30 new full-time positions in response to staffing concerns, but those discussions broke down over issues related to incentive pay.

“For the rest of this week, our clinical teams, including our nursing leaders, are focused exclusively on helping the Medical Center rapidly return to full operations so that we can get [the nurses] back to work as quickly as possible after the NNU’s walkout,” the university said.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek