Ingalls’ nurses seek union representation, but U. of C. refuses request; contract talks are stalled

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D) speaks at today’s press conference. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Over half of the nurses at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital in south suburban Harvey signed authorization forms saying they want to be represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), representatives said at a press conference on Friday.

The union apparently raised the issue during Aug. 9 contract negotiations with the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) administration. UCMC officials refused to recognize the action and ended the day’s negotiations in response.

At the press conference outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, 5758 S. Maryland Ave., Sylviette Young, an Ingalls nurse, said the nurses in Harvey hoped working conditions would improve after a 2016 merger with the U. of C.

However, “Ingalls nurses and our patients haven’t seen any improvements in our staffing, in safety or in other benefits,” Young said. “We know Ingalls Memorial has the resources to do the right thing for the Ingalls community. We got tired of waiting and decided to organize a union so we can advocate for our patients, our community and ourselves without retaliation.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D) and State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) spoke at the press conference in support of the union. Preckwinkle noted that nurses are a central part of the county’s $3 billion medical system and that the U. of C. — both in Harvey and in Hyde Park — is part of the CountyCare Medicaid expansion program.

“You now are in a fight not only for your own good working conditions but also for the safety of your patients,” Preckwinkle said. “I’m very grateful to the National Nurses United for organizing — not only here at 58th and Maryland, but in Harvey at Ingalls.”

Peters said that nurses, not administrative personnel, cared for his mother and father when they were ill. “You guys stand by each and every one of us when we’re at our most vulnerable. It is important for us to stand by you when you are in your most vulnerable state and to fight for you and to be a champion for you,” he said, calling them integral to the community and for patients moving out of trauma.

Since April, nurses at the U. of C. Medical Center (UCMC) have been bargaining for a new contract. In an Aug. 9 letter to nurses, UCMC Chief Nursing Officer Debra Albert said the NNOC and National Nurses United (NNU) have “failed to make any response to UCMC’s economic proposals for two months” and “focused instead on picketing our patients, filing frivolous regulatory claims that have been dismissed and soliciting strike pledges.”

A UCMC spokeswoman said the NNOC/NNU complaints filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health last month have been dismissed.

“NNOC/NNU promised to finally talk about your wages and benefits this morning for the first time since we made our proposal for you in early June,” Albert wrote. “When we arrived at the table, the union instead ignored UCMC nurses and attempted to bargain on behalf of Ingalls nurses (whom they do not currently represent).” She said negotiations will resume on Aug. 22.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com