After a strike that lasted just over a week, the University of Illinois Hospitals have reached a deal with its nurses. The discussions culminated in a tentative contract agreement covering four years. The main reason for the nurse’s strike was in protest of what they felt was unsafe staffing and a lack of personal protective equipment, critical elements for a public hospital’s employees during a pandemic.
This tentative contract agreement comes with promises packaged into it, which have so far appeased the nurse community sufficiently to ratify the contract. This deal looks set to be in effect from August of this year, through to August 2024.
This deal was eventually struck after a week of negotiations, though many in the nursing community still feel that it doesn’t go far enough. Nonetheless, the fourteen hundred nurses represented by the union have voted to ratify this contract. Union leaders announced the result of the vote Oct 1.
The so-called “tentative” contract agreement features a promise to hire 160 full time nurses in the coming year. This looks set to reduce caseloads for the current staff, who have felt under great pressure. Packed into the contract, too, is an increase in wages and personal protective equipment.
Whenever nurses strike, they do so with a heavy heart, yet they deserve to be fully protected and well compensated for the incredible work which they do. Following the announcement of the agreement, Illinois Nurses Association President Doris Carroll released the following statement;
“We are gratified to achieve this hard-fought victory after months of negotiations. This represents a vast improvement compared to where we were before the strike and we are happy to see that the hospital recognized the importance of safe staffing.”
In response to this, hospital CEO Michael Zenn spoke about how happy he was that the strike and the subsequent negotiations had ended well.
“We are grateful that our nurses chose to return to work on September 19, following a seven-day strike. This is in the best interest of our patients and our UI Health family,”
While it is of course excellent news that the nurses are heading back to work, they are well aware that they have to ensure those promises are delivered on. This is why many refer to this as a tentative contract agreement, because it is very much subject to completion of commitments.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing 4000 additional striking clerical, professional, technical, service and maintenance workers, spoke in the final week of negotiations:
“ ‘As UIC nurses return to work, we will continue our strike,’ the union said in a statement. ‘We won’t quit until UIC respects us, protects us and pays us. Working through a pandemic and seeing our co-workers die has stiffened our resolve to fight for however long it takes to ensure the safety of all workers and those we serve.’ “
Though the strike has now concluded, it is clear from the passion which they have shown that nurses and SEIU workers will not back down if promises that have been made are not kept.
The feeling of the nurses is that they have been failed by the very legislation that was put in place to help them. We reported on the introduction of the Nurse Staffing Bill which was supposed to save money through smarter recruitment and working conditions. The result however has been increased pressure on nursing staff.
Another clear deception which the nurses suffered from was the introduction of nurse practitioners, another story which we broke. Despite it being reported that nurse practitioners had trebled, those figures were highly questionable, which we go into in that story.
For now, there is quiet between the nurses union and the University of Illinois hospital. What the hospital will have learned from this situation is just how much the nurses care about justice and equity, appropriate protective equipment, and righteous staffing levels for patients.
We will be keeping an eye on this situation closely in the coming months and years.