Nurses, U of C Medical Center Prepare for Possible Walkout

The walkout would be the second this year if nurses walk off the job on Nov. 26

The University of Chicago Medical Center is preparing for a nurses’ walkout just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, and those preparations include transferring patients to other hospitals.

Last week, the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United gave notice to the hospital that its members were planning a one-day walkout on Nov. 26.

If the walkout takes place, it would be the second such walkout this year as the sides continue to negotiate a new contract.

In the previous strike, nurses were kept off the job for five days, as replacement nurses were hired by the hospital and could not be brought in for a single day of work.

This time around, nurses at the hospital are disappointed that they are once again facing the possibility of a work stoppage.

“It’s sad. It’s very disheartening that we had a strike and the medical center is still refusing to negotiate in good faith,” RN Elaine Mister said.

That strike was the first in the prestigious hospital’s history, and saw nurses walk off the job for five days.

Now, as another strike potentially looms, both sides are at odds over the sticking points that remain in negotiations.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe said. “This is solely about money. That’s it.”

Members of the nurses’ union disagreed with that assessment.

“This is not over incentive pay,” Mister said. ‘This is over us potentially losing patient care support nurses. We need those nurses.”

The new strike vote came in mid-November after nurses say that hospital officials recently proposed eliminating those support nurses, who assist younger nurses in a mentorship role and aid them with their responsibilities at the hospital. 

Hospital officials say they have offered "significant compromises" to the union, and are "disappointed" in the potential walkout. 

"The union (has) rejected all of the compromises that UCMC had offered on major issues, and gave us a proposal reinforcing its inflexible demands," the hospital said in a statement. 

As the sides look to bridge the gulf preventing an agreement, patients are once again caught in the middle. The hospital has closed its level 1 trauma center, and ambulances have been put into emergency room bypass. No patients can be transferred in from other community hospitals, and high-risk labor and delivery patients are being transferred out.

Dozens of sick children at Comer Children’s Hospital are being transferred as well.

“There are tears, sometimes yelling, and sometimes just sobbing and hugging, asking if they can be the exception,” Comer Children’s Hospital VP Emily Chase said. “It’s heartbreaking to have this conversation with them.”

Both sides will return to the bargaining table on Friday, and are hoping that a resolution can be reached to avoid the walkout.

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