Nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center authorize strike

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

The 1,500 union nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center voted to authorize a strike last week if bargaining negotiations fail.

The members of National Nurses United voted on Thursday to authorize a one-day strike if negotiations with the administration at UCMC do not improve.

A strike date has not been set. Bargaining is expected to resume on Feb. 19.

“We’ve come to a point in negotiations where management isn’t listening to us and instead of working with us to make improvements on things that are important to us, like staffing, they’re ignoring us when we say we seriously need help in this area,” said Talisa Hardin, labor representative and negotiation for NNU.

She said the union would give at least 10 days notice in advance of a strike, if it becomes necessary.

UCMC spokesperson Lorna Wong said the vote was premature, even though negotiations have been ongoing since August.

“We feel this vote is premature as our nurses have not yet seen the full outcome of negotiations. We believe contract issues are best settled through respectful and cooperative negotiations,” Wong said.

UCMC said it has a plan in place to continue patient care in the event that the union strikes but did not elaborate on what that would entail.

“We remain committed to our mission of delivering outstanding patient- and family-centered care. UCMC does not want a strike. Unfortunately, the vote has put us in a position where we must prepare for a strike. We have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure our patient care operations continue smoothly if the NNU calls for one. It is our hope that we will not need to initiate this plan,” Wong said.

At the heart of the nurses’ demands, Hardin said, is that the charge nurse position remain unchanged. The person filling the role of charge nurse changes daily but allows an experienced nurse to be able to step in and handle patient care at a moment’s notice.

University officials want the charge nurse position changed to a permanent administrative role.

Nurses also want to see an end to rotating shifts, a practice Hardin called “archaic.”

Debi Albert, a registered nurse and vice president of patient care at UCMC, wrote a blog post Friday, directed to the staff nurses.

“We have a responsibility to our patients and community to have a full strike plan in place to ensure our patient care operations will continue if the NNU directs you to walk out on our patients,” the post reads. “Please know that despite NNU claims of a ‘one day strike’, a strike could force you out of work for five days or potentially more.”

l.welbers@hpherald.com