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Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

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UChicago Nurses Approve Strike Authorization

The authorization comes as months-long contract negotiations between National Nurses United and UChicago Medicine have stalled.
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
National Nurses United members vote on authorizing a strike at UChicago Medicine.

UChicago nurses voted Tuesday to authorize a strike as months-long contract negotiations between National Nurses United (NNU) and UChicago Medicine (UCM) have stalled. The vote does not mean a strike is certain but allows the labor union’s bargaining team to call a one-day strike at their discretion.

On its website, NNU said the bargaining team would call a strike if UCM management did not “address staffing concerns which lead to patient safety issues.”

At a rally held on Tuesday at the corner of 58th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, ICU nurse and NNU bargaining team member Amber Turi said that “management has not moved at all on these core staffing issues,” despite 17 meetings and 24 tentative agreements with UCM.

Unresolved issues include low staffing levels at Mitchell Hospital, one of UCM’s two major hospitals in Hyde Park. According to Turi, Medicare and Medicaid patients, whose government insurance pays hospitals less per treatment than private insurers do, are disproportionately sent to Mitchell over UCM’s other major Hyde Park hospital, the Center for Care and Discovery. Over 70 percent of UCM’s self-defined “Primary Service Area” is Black and almost 40 percent is insured by Medicaid; Turi sees Mitchell’s “deliberate understaffing as a form of systemic racism.” 

NNU claims many staffing issues date back to difficult working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In NNU’s statement, Turi recounts having “no environmental services, no food service, no EKG techs, no supplies” at Mitchell Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. “UChicago refused to consider retention compensation during this difficult time, even though it was being offered at other hospitals,” Turi said.

Turi added that 60 percent of her nursing unit left their jobs during this time, and that the severe staffing issues have resulted in NNU nurses missing 244,946 lunches combined in fiscal year 2022. This means that the average NNU nurse at UChicago, often working a 12-hour shift, missed roughly 86 lunches in 2022.

While Turi delivered her remarks, nurses walked out of nearby hospital buildings in their scrubs to cast their ballots at NNU’s polling station, set up on the sidewalk as cars streamed by on Cottage Grove Avenue.

“Turnout’s been excellent,” Drew Castenson, a Mitchell nurse supervising the voting, said. Voting took place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at UCM’s Hyde Park location and in shorter windows at UCM locations in South Shore, South Loop, and Orland Park, said Stephanie Gamboa, an outpatient clinic nurse on NNU’s bargaining team. Gamboa said that UCM has only moved on “small” points since a large NNU rally on January 15, and that the labor union is still looking for concessions on workplace safety and retirement in addition to staffing concerns.

Before the vote, Turi said that while they “do not want to strike,” calling one is “not off the table” for negotiators if the union’s rank and file authorized one. 

“We cannot provide the highest quality of care when we are running on fumes,” emergency room nurse Scott Mechanic said. “We deserve better and our patients deserve better.”

While earlier this month, UCM laid off 180 administrative employees, citing difficult financial circumstances facing hospitals nationwide, the system has undertaken a number of capital projects. The medical system broke ground on an $815 million cancer care and research pavilion late last year and announced the launch of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Inequity (CinEQUITY) last week. UCM also acquired a controlling stake in four suburban hospitals in early 2023.

In a statement to The Maroon, UCM emphasized that a strike has only been authorized, not called, and wrote that “both sides have exchanged dozens of proposals, reaching roughly two dozen tentative agreements on a number of topics—seven during the last bargaining session alone. There also have been important conversations on key topics such as nurse education, staffing and compensation.”

Characterizing the negotiations so far as “steady progress,” UCM wrote that “the real work of reaching a contract can only be accomplished at the bargaining table, and UCMC [UChicago Medical Center] is committed to continuing good-faith negotiations.”

At least three more bargaining sessions are scheduled for February and March. UCM concluded that they “remain optimistic that both sides will reach an agreement that allows us to continue to retain and attract the high caliber of nurses who so meaningfully contribute to our reputation for providing excellent care.”

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Nick Rommel
Nick Rommel, Grey City Reporter
“He toes the line between Cronkite and Kerouac,” Nick Rommel once thought of himself during a Sunday afternoon reverie, a cold beer in one hand and a pencil in the other. Boozy braggadocio? Perhaps. But toeing that line has taken him through cushy offices, pulsating dancehalls, and lonesome beaches. It has introduced him to scholars of freshwater fish, administrators of healthcare behemoths, and the town fiddle players of remote Indian reservations. It’s taken him everywhere from Deutschland to the Dakotas, all in pursuit of a story. But even Nick’s toes get weary. That’s when he finds a comfortable home in the Chicago Maroon’s creative long-form Grey City section. His writing has also appeared in memoryhouse magazine. His radio work appears bi-weekly on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago. It appeared for one glorious summer on Prairie Public, North Dakota’s NPR affiliate station. It will continue to appear where you least expect it.
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    Laura Peterson / Feb 21, 2024 at 10:09 pm

    That is so wrong
    U of Chicago does not care for the safety of their nurses, making them park on the dangerous side streets of the city.
    They disassembled the nurse education
    department and make the staff nurses educate all the new nurses.
    The physicians assistants follow protocols that are not evidence based and belittle tbe nursing staff.
    The hospital has set a precedent on the trauma program and lost site of the integrity off the patients that pay for care.
    Never has so many nurse left the bedside before. Witnessed the demise of nursing care and the lack of skills in the management staff. I worked at the hospital for 16 years and nothing but disrespect has been delivers to the nurses in the last 5 years.
    The directors are foolish in their fiscal decisions and have made decisions based in their own greed and bonuses.
    The liberal tone has undermined the good of the paying patient. Taking beds away and filling up the ER with patients that do not care about human life and the dignity of mankind. Trauma patients that are taking the Operating rooms with their bullet wounds all for the sake of the south side agenda.
    The nurses need to strike for the good of their patients. The upper management should step down . The physicians should step up for the good of the research and the good they do for mankind.