More than 700 unionized nurses at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet walked off the job Saturday morning as negotiations over a new labor contract hit a wall.
The striking nurses, represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, rallied outside the hospital at 333 Madison St. in Joliet, accusing AMITA executives of using illegal bargaining tactics of intimidation and threats of termination.
Negotiations have stalled since February, and the nurses had been working without a contract since May 9.
The nurses’ union hasn’t said how long they plan to strike, but it will be at least five days. That’s how long temporary nurses from an outside agency have been contracted to fill the gap at Saint Joseph.
The main sticking point in negotiations has been hospital staffing levels. The union claims the hospital requires nurses “to care for more patients than is safe.”
“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,” lead union nurse Pat Meade said in a statement.
AMITA spokesman Timothy Nelson said the hospital system was “disappointed” in the decision to strike, but said Saint Joseph is “prepared to provide uninterrupted, high quality care and service throughout the possible strike.”
Nelson said their negotiators made a final offer Friday that included extended illness benefits, wage increases in the second and third years of the contract, plus tuition reimbursement and anniversary paid time off. He acknowledged the hospital would not offer “merit increases” for nurses this fiscal year, a decision he said was made in an effort to avoid furloughs and layoffs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic impact on hospitals and health systems throughout the United States, and AMITA Health is no different,” Nelson said. “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.”
The work stoppage marks the second nurses’ strike at a major Chicago-area hospital in the last year. University of Chicago Medical Center nurses walked off the job for a day and were locked out for an additional four days in September 2019.