CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of nurses picketed outside University of Illinois Hospital, after going on strike Saturday morning, demanding better care for patients as part of an ongoing contract dispute.

Nurses said they put an offer on the table early Saturday morning, before walking off the job at 7 a.m., as hospital management expressed disappointment in the process.

“We are disappointed that despite progress in this week’s lengthy negotiations, including a 14-hour session on Friday, September 11, we were not able to reach an agreement with the INA,” University of Illinois Hospital CEO Michael Zenn said in a statement.

Both groups have said they want quality care, but through different ways.

“We are here rain or shine. Rains not going to stop us,” Doris Carroll, president of the Illinois Nurses Association, said while picketing outside the hospital on Saturday.

Hundreds of nurses began a 7-day strike Saturday morning, after their contract with the hospital expired earlier this week.

Carroll said the number of patients per nurse, and how sick a patient is in that calculation, are factors holding up negotiations.

The hospital argued that one-size-fits-all staffing calculation is too rigid, and amongst other things can result in longer emergency wait times and higher operating costs.

“These ladies and these men are warriors,” said stage 4 cancer patient Cheryl Ann Quinn-Chlebowski, who voiced support for the workers keeping her healthy. “Because I’m so sick, it would take me hours to tell you the quality of patient care that I have received here. I would be dead. I would absolutely be dead.”

About 800 of the more than 1,300 UI Health nurses represented by INA are striking, but a court ruled Friday that critical care nurses — an estimated 118 per shift — must remain on the job, because allowing them to join the strike would present a danger to the public. Those include workers in places like intensive care.

Despite the strike, the hospital is not shut down. Administrators said they’ve added hundreds of qualified temporary nurses to fill in for those picketing.

Hospital management also stressed they are taking every step necessary to ensure continued care and safety

“You can get care, it just depends on the quality of care that you’re going to receive,” Carroll said. “These nurses here, we are here to fight. This is not symbolic. Many of these nurses here, two-thirds have been here for over 20 years.”

Both sides acknowledged the importance of care and safety during the pandemic, but there’s been no word on when there will be a response to the latest offer on the table.

Read Zenn’s full statement below:

We are disappointed that despite progress in this week’s lengthy negotiations, including a 14-hour session on Friday, September 11, we were not able to reach an agreement with the INA.

Over the past three months, UI Health and the INA have participated in more than 20 negotiating sessions, more than half of those under the guidance of federal mediators. When it comes to the top issues that matter to nurses—compensation, staffing, and safety and security—the generous offers summarized here reflect our respect and commitment to supporting our nurses, while recognizing challenging economic realities laid bare by the COVID pandemic.

We believe we have been fair and generous to the INA throughout negotiations and in our last offer, reflecting our respect and commitment to our nursing colleagues.

·         UI Health supports a patient acuity-based staffing model. Our staffing proposal 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. The INA is demanding one-size-fits-all staffing ratios that are too rigid and remove flexibility. Fixed staffing ratios ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift-to-shift basis and result in longer Emergency Department wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services, and higher operating costs.

·         Our nurses deserve top compensation—and they receive it. On average, UI Health nurses earn over $20,000 a year more in base hourly compensation than their counterparts. Under our last offer, UI Health nurses would remain in the top 10% for pay compared to their peers in Chicago, Illinois and throughout the U.S.

Our nurses are critical to UI Health’s mission of clinical excellence and safe patient care. We are in the midst of a pandemic and maintaining adequate staffing for critical health care functions is even more urgent in these times. While we fully respect our nurses’ right to strike, we believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of UI Health or our patients. We hope the INA will join us in negotiations today and as often as possible to work toward a new agreement and to end this strike.

UI Health is taking every step necessary to ensure our patients’ continued care and safety during the INA strike.

·         We have initiated our internal emergency management team, which will be monitoring and responding to all potential challenges during the strike to ensure safe patient care and collaboration with our external partners, including IDPH.

·         We have engaged an agency to onboard more than 600 qualified nurses and health care professionals from external sources to support our mission and care delivery.

·         We have obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent some critical care nurses, for whom there are no similarly qualified agency substitutes, from participating in the strike so that our most vulnerable patients receive the care they need. Approximately 114 nurses are prevented from striking at any given time.

·         We have taken action to temporarily limit our inpatient census, including going on ambulance bypass, declining transfer requests from other hospitals, canceling elective procedures and surgeries, and we are working with nearby hospitals in the event that any of our patients require a transfer.

·         Our outpatient clinics remain open during regular hours, and all urgent patients will be seen. Clinic appointment capacity will be adjusted to reflect staffing and ensure safe patient care.

We remain committed to addressing key issues and believe much can be resolved through further dialogue. We have offered to meet this weekend and next week for as long as it takes to resolve the outstanding issues and reach a fair and equitable agreement.