CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of UIC nurses still plan to strike Saturday morning despite a restraining order granted by a Cook County judge Friday. That order will prevent some critical care nurses from joining the strike because it would present a danger to the public, but one of the nurses tells CBS 2’s Tara Molina they will strike anyway.

The judge’s order prevents hundreds of nurses from joining the planned week-long strike, deeming their work essential to public health and safety. One nurse says she will join the strike, report to work, and then go strike again.
“We’ve lost faith in management,” said Nurse Jeanette Alvarez-Basem.
Alvarez-Basem, a nurse of more than 30 years with more than 18 years at UIC, said for her the strike boils down to two feelings.
“Disrespected. Unbelievably unhappy,” she said.
While she is technically not allowed to walk off the job as a nurse in the medical intensive care unit covered by the temporary restraining order the judge signed Friday, she will report for her shift and then outside to the picket line.
“We will strike before and after our shifts because we believe it’s an unfair practice right now,” she said.
Earlier this week nurses lit candles honoring their coworkers who have died from COVID-19. They say they still don’t have appropriate personal protective equipment.
The strike stems from contract negotiations. Their contract expired in August but was extended through September. One of the biggest sticking points is setting a limit on the number of patients that can be assigned, which is known as safe patient limits.
Despite more than 20 meetings with hospital leaders, the union still isn’t happy with what’s on the table.
“I think they should be scared. There’s going to be over 900 nurses not at the bedside for them,” Alvarez-Basem said to patients concerned about how the strike will affect their safety.
The hospital’s CEO released a statement Friday detailing their efforts to continue bargaining to prevent Saturday’s strike, noting that they are prepared to continue safe patient care during a strike. Below is the full statement:

UI Health is pleased that, today, Cook County Judge Pamela McLean Meyerson granted University of Illinois Hospital’s request to enter a Temporary Restraining Order against the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) preventing select critical care nurses it represents from striking. In doing so, Judge Meyerson noted that the “specialized expertise of these nurses makes their work truly essential to the public’s health and safety.”

The INA has indicated they may strike for seven days starting tomorrow, Saturday, September 12. We hope that through continued bargaining today a strike will be avoided.

In the event that a strike occurs, this injunction applies only to a small number of nursing positions that were narrowly identified because work a stoppage would create a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public, based on their placement in 12 critical care units, like medical/surgical COVID, transplant, intensive care, labor and delivery, and psychiatry units.

This action is similar to temporary restraining orders granted by the Courts in both 2014 and 2017, when INA announced its intent to strike.

The University of Illinois Hospital, the only state hospital in Illinois, is committed to providing high-quality clinical care to Illinois residents. We are in the midst of a pandemic and maintaining adequate staffing for critical health care functions is even more urgent in these times. Should a work stoppage occur, we must be prepared to continue safe patient care and ongoing operations.

UI Health will do everything reasonably within our power to avert a strike and are prepared to continue bargaining for as long as it takes to reach a successful agreement with INA.  The UI Health team has been engaged in extensive bargaining with INA in an effort to avoid a strike. We have met 22 times since June 9 and additional bargaining is scheduled for today.

UI Health values and respects the critical role our nurses and other healthcare professionals in providing vital care for our community. We are hopeful that both parties will reach a fair and equitable new contract that continues our tradition of generous wages and fair working conditions for our valuable nursing colleagues, while being fiscally sustainable for the Hospital.

Please note:

Economics

  • We believe that all of our employees should receive competitive wages and, in fact, UI Health nurses at all levels are already among the highest compensated in Chicago, statewide and across the United States. On average, UI Health nurses earn over $20,000 a year more in base hourly compensation than their counterparts. This figure does not include overtime, shift differentials or other peripheral pay that further increase our nurses’ annual compensation.
  • The INA has proposed a 4% percent wage increase for each of the next three years. This does not include the INA’s proposed increases in differentials or other peripheral pay. We believe any wage increase must reflect current economic conditions and the fiscal challenges facing the healthcare industry and the State of Illinois, including our Hospital.
  • UI Health was a trailblazer in Illinois regarding COVID differential pay, and we did not layoff or furlough a single staff member during the pandemic. It was important to us to retain and pay all staff throughout the pandemic, even those whose roles were partially or fully diminished while some routine clinical services were suspended.

PPE

  • From the beginning of the pandemic, we have followed the latest scientific guidelines from local and national public health officials, which have changed dramatically and rapidly over the last few months. All care providers at UI Health haven been provided guidance to use personal protective equipment as recommended by the CDC and inmany cases we have implemented recommendations that go beyond the CDC guidelines:
    • On March 27, we were one of the first hospitals in Chicago to implement universal masking of all patients and staff,with fit-tested N95 masks available to staff interacting with COVID or suspected COVID patients.
    • On April 22, we made non-fit tested KN95 masks available to all staff.
    • OnJune 29, we also began providing face shields for all employees.
  • We continue to monitor the guidelines and our supplies to ensure that we are well prepared to care for patients and staff today and in the future.This includes partnering with the INA and the SEIU to request additional support from our elected officials to ensure supply chain availability of needed PPE—in particular, N95 masks.
  • UI Health iscommitted to leading the country in expanding use of PPE when the acute national shortage is resolved.

Staffing

  • UI Health’s nurse staffing proposal, “Staffing for Safe Patient Care,” which was shared with the INA in our negotiations, is a patient acuity-based model that focuses on obtaining the right nurse at the right time to care for each patient, so we can achieve the highest level of safety, quality, service and health outcomes.
  • Staffing by acuity also recognizes the professionalism of our nurses by taking into account each nurse’s education level, expertise, skills, knowledge, judgement and experiences. It leads to better health outcomes, more consistent and manageable nursing workloads, higher staff satisfaction and better patient experiences.
  • The largest national nursing organizations, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and American Organization of Nurse Leaders (AONL), support only patient acuity-based staffing models. The Illinois Nurse Staffing by Patient Acuity Law actually requires that all Illinois hospitals staff in this way.
  • UI Health does not support staffing ratios. One-size-fits-all staffing ratios are too rigid and remove flexibility. They ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift-to-shift basis. Nurse staffing ratios also result in longer Emergency Department (ED) wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services and higher operating costs.

Tara Molina