CHICAGO (CBS) — Nurses who work at the University of Chicago Medical Center and its clinics have authorized their union to declare a one-day strike, as they continue negotiations on a new contract.
A strike authorization vote on Thursday allows the union to call a one-day strike at any time, although the union must give the hospital 10 days notice before holding a walkout.
“We take no joy in leaving the bedside to walk the strike line, but if that is what it takes to get UCMC to address the chronic patient care issues that keep us from providing the highest quality of care to our patients, then we have no choice but to strike,” said Talisa Hardin, a registered nurse in the burn unit at the hospital.
The nurses have been working without a contract since April, and have been negotiating with the hospital on several key issues. Their union – The National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) said it is concerned about short staffing levels, and a shortage of medical equipment.
The union represents 2,240 nurses who work at the hospital and its clinics.
“The nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center have authorized their elected bargaining team to call a one day strike, should we not make progress on our proposals to improve staffing and workplace safety,” NNOC/NNU spokeswoman Marti Smith stated in an email.
Last month, a group of more than 100 nurses picketed outside the hospital, calling on the University of Chicago to meet their demands regarding increased staffing and security.
Nurses said they have been verbally abused and physically assaulted by patients or visitors while on the job. They believe more security protocols need to be in place so nurses will know what to do.
“We do have placards on the walls, and on the doors and windows, that says violence will not be tolerated. But what’s most important is nurses don’t really have the tools if something does happen. What do we go to? Do we need to call just the manager? You know, we need more security presence,” said pediatric nurse Brigitt Manson-McToy.
A hospital spokesperson said they were disappointed by the strike authorization vote, but not surprised.
“The University of Chicago Medical Center does not want a strike, and UCMC continues to focus on bargaining in good faith toward a contract,” spokeswoman Ashley Heher stated in an email. “Unfortunately, with yesterday’s vote, NNOC/NNU has put us in a position where we must prepare for a strike. We have a full strike plan in place to ensure our patient care will continue should the union call for a walkout in the future. This includes engaging an outside firm that can provide a fully trained group of nurses to provide continuity of care. The needs of our patients, their families and the community must come first, and we are dedicated to providing them with the excellent care they deserve.”
Heher said the hospital is determined to meet with the union as often as necessary.
The two sides are set to resume negotiations on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6.
UCMC nurses also authorized a strike in 2015, but reached a deal with the hospital just days before they were set to walk off the job.