Nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital kicked off a seven-day strike Saturday morning in their bid for a new contract that includes limits on the number of patients under each nurse’s care and better personal protection equipment.
Hundreds of nurses officially walked off the job and into a rainy picket line at 7 a.m. outside the hospital at 1740 W. Taylor St., where administrators contend that they’ve offered “fair and generous” terms to about 800 members represented by the Illinois Nurses Association.
But medical-surgical nurse Josephine Daylo said more needs to be done to provide proper safety gear — a fight she says is personal for her.
Earlier in the pandemic, Daylo came down with a nasty cough that turned into a full-blown case of COVID-19, adding her to a list of about 270 of her colleagues who have contracted the deadly virus. And she says she caught it in part because she wasn’t provided with the proper PPE.
“I thought I was going to die,” Daylo said, as she and other unionized medical professionals rallied outside the hospital. “I almost didn’t make it [to my birthday]. My age almost stopped at 59, but I struggled and I fought, for my family and for this family… We love our work, we love our profession — that’s why we come here.”
Contract negotiations have stalled since the nurses’ previous deal expired Monday, with the union saying they’re “still far apart on key contract issues after 20 bargaining sessions.”
They voted Aug. 19 to authorize a seven-day strike, and on Sept. 2 the nurses association filed a 10-day notice of its intent to strike.
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit earlier this week in a failed attempt to block the strike, claiming a work stoppage would pose “a clear and present danger” to the public.
After the strike became official, Michael Zenn, CEO of the University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics, said administrators were “disappointed” that a marathon 14-hour bargaining session on Friday still ended at an impasse.
“We believe we have been fair and generous to the INA throughout negotiations and in our last offer, reflecting our respect and commitment to our nursing colleagues,” Zenn said in a statement.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic and maintaining adequate staffing for critical health care functions is even more urgent in these times. While we fully respect our nurses’ right to strike, we believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of UI Health or our patients,” Zenn said.
As the nurses gathered outside the Near West Side hospital for the first of seven planned strike days, motorists — including several CTA train conductors — laid on their horns in support. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., wore a blue polo and his University of Illinois-Chicago alumni hat in solidarity.
Crystal Miles, who has been a neonatal intensive care nurse for 32 years, said patient safety is the nurses’ top priority. She said nurses are overwhelmed with the amount of patients they have to care for.
“Morale here is low,” Miles said. “It’s tough to think that you come here to save a life but the administration doesn’t think anything of yours. You don’t even give us the equipment to [do our jobs].”
Daylo said that after her three-month battle with the virus, she still can’t walk from the parking lot to the hospital without having to stop to catch her breath. She said a patient recently asked her why she continues to work despite her breathing troubles.
“Because I want to be here for you and take care of you,” Daylo told the patient.
“That’s how devoted we are,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t take care of our own self first, we take care of our patients. ... I want this contract not for me only but for everybody and the future.”
Hospital officials said they’ve offered to meet for negotiations this weekend, next week and “for as long as it takes to resolve the outstanding issues and reach a fair and equitable agreement.”