Strike becomes lockout as U. of C. Medical Center tells nurses to disperse

An unidentified member of Huffmaster Crisis Response security team confronts Tom Gaulke, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and auxiliary faculty of public religion at the Lutheran School of Theology. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

University of Chicago Medical Center nurses showed up to work Saturday morning after their 24-hour strike, but the hospital administration, which contracted hundreds of replacement nurses through Wednesday, told them to go home.

More than 100 nurses represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses Union (NNOC/NNU) gathered outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM), 5758 S. Maryland Ave., as the sun rose.

Around 7:30, Kenneth Sparks, an attorney with the Vedder Price law firm, 222 N. LaSalle St., texted NNOC/NNU Midwest Director Marti Smith, saying that the crowd was blocking road access to DCAM.

“Patients need access,” he said. “Please disperse or move the crowd you have assembled across the roadway.” He said that the nurses were “well past” the end of their strike and that their chanting “and other confrontational activity” was in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and that his team reserved all rights.

“As you know, nurses are to report on Wednesday at 7 a.m., not today,” he said.

Smith, who had told the crowd that an administration official would come out to address the nurses, encouraged someone to do so. Sparks responded that their actions were unlawful and asked them to cease and desist.

The Medical Center issued the following statement Saturday morning: “UCMC continues to focus on the patients and their families who are currently in the hospital and those who come to our emergency rooms or have an appointment at our medical center. Our patients have thanked our teams — including our doctors, replacement nurses and other clinicians — for continuing to provide excellent care to them without interruption.

“We regret NNOC/NNU’s attempt to make our patients part of their spectacle.  We have all the experienced licensed nurses we need to care for our patients.  We’ve made it clear to our union-represented nurses and the union since they notified us they would be walking out on patients that, due to our contract with replacement nurses, there would be no work for NNOC/NNU members until Wednesday, Sept. 25. We look forward to welcoming our represented nurses back at 7 a.m. Wednesday.”

Smith confirmed that there are no protests scheduled during the lockout. Services remain cut back at the Medical Center; the administration said that they were not able to contract as many replacement workers as they had hoped, as NNOC/NNU called for strikes at a dozen other facilities nationwide, the Tribune reported.

“Hundreds of highly trained, licensed replacement nurses from around the country are in place caring for our patients along with our physicians, techs and a number of other clinicians. We are grateful to our faculty and staff who came in early this morning and remain in our units to support our community during this critical period,” said UCMC Chief Medical Officer Stephen Weber in a statement Friday evening. “We remain committed to providing exceptional, safe care for our patients and look forward to welcoming our nurses back on Wednesday.”