Cook County nurses agree to contract

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National Nurses United’ Chicago chapter — pictured here at a 2012 rally — have reached a deal for a new contract in Cook County| (Rich Hein/Sun-Times )

More than 1,200 Cook County registered nurses have reached a new collective bargaining agreement with county officials after months of negotiations and years without a contract, their union announced Friday.

The agreement with the National Nurses Organizing Committee and Cook County officials addresses many patient care concerns and also gives the county’s registered nurses a raise, according to National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, which represents the Cook County Health and Hospitals Systems registered nurses. Cook County’s union is an affiliate of National Nurses United.

Registered nurses will receive a retroactive raise. The deal includes a 10.75 percent pay increase over the five-year life of the agreement, which is backdated to begin in 2012, when the last contract expired.

“Our agreement moves us forward significantly, with strong new language regarding infectious diseases that will allow us to address our concerns both as new outbreaks occur and on an ongoing basis,” said Rochelle Lowe, a neonatal intensive care nurse at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County.

Cook County’s registered nurses have been working without a contract for several years and have picketed and rallied several times.

Cook County officials confirmed the agreement: “We have reached a tentative agreement with the National Nurses Organizing Committee. The agreement follows the same patterns set by other unions regarding wages and health benefit contributions,” said Alexandra Normington, spokeswoman for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

According to the union, the new contract will provide nurses with additional time to provide the “full scope of nursing care patients need.” The contract also details safe patient handling procedures, including lift teams or other staff trained in lifting techniques to reduce the danger of nurse injuries.

And in light of last year’s Ebola crisis, the agreement also provides protection to limit the spread of infectious diseases by requiring the county to provide protective equipment and training. It also gives nurses the right to refuse care for patients if the protective gear isn’t provided.

The union’s nurses will vote on the agreement in meetings on July 1 and 2.

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