November 7, 2014

UCMC nurses considering strike as negotiations with UCMC continue

Negotiations between the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) and National Nurses United (NNU), the union which represents its nursing staff, have yet to come to an agreement about the union’s contract that satisfies both parties. A union vote to strike may be forthcoming.

October 30 marked the last scheduled bargaining session between the two organizations, and their contract expired the next day. A new contract for NNU-represented nurses at the UCMC has yet to be drawn up. There are three days of meetings planned for November, with the next session scheduled for November 10.

Since August, the UCMC and the NNU have engaged in 11 bargaining sessions. Several agreements were reached, but significant points of contention between the UCMC and the NNU remain. The disputes at hand include displacement and layoff, schedule changes, vacation days, and patient-to-nurse ratios. Negotiations haven’t even begun to include economic proposals like wages and benefits.

One source of discord is staffing levels. The UCMC favors a system of assessing how many nurses are needed for a given shift based on patients’ care needs, and staffing to that number, whereas the NNU advocates for fixed patient-to-nurse ratios.

Another area of disagreement involves how to handle a potential downsizing of the nursing workforce. According to Senior Vice President for Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at UCMC Debra Albert, the NNU proposes moving displaced nurses into any available position and training them after they begin.

“The union would want us to allow nurses to go into any open position, and there are some areas that require intensive care experience, so we’re saying that they could not go into those roles if they did not have that experience. We would like to maintain the minimum requirements for competency,” Albert said.

The issue of rotating shifts—calling a day nurse into work at night or vice versa a certain number of times in a six-week period—is also under debate. The UCMC seeks to expand the practice, but the union wants to end it.

Regarding next steps, the NNU has begun openly talking to the press about holding a strike vote. Jan Rodolfo, the lead negotiator and Midwest director of the NNU, told the Chicago Tribune that although a strike vote is always a last option, it is likely one will occur in the near future “unless something significant changes.”

Albert maintains that the hospital has been running as usual in spite of the expired contract. Until a new agreement is reached, the UCMC will honor the current terms of the contract that are applicable to the day-to-day affairs of the nurses, and will not implement any new initiatives.

“Our nurses are coming to work exactly as they did before. I’ve got every confidence that our nurses are just as passionate about patient care now as they were before we had a contract,” Albert said. “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we’re focused on quality patient care, and I know that our nurses are, as well.”