700 nurses ready to walk off job in Joliet

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Over 700 nurses at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center are ready to walk off the job next week after filing a strike notice on Tuesday.

The nurses will be able to walk as early as next Friday.

According to Pat Meade, RN, one of the nurse negotiators, the most recent contract proposal from AMITA management is in some ways worse than its first offer.

“AMITA proposed a three-year wage freeze whereas INA has offered wage increases more closely tied to cost of living increases. They are unwilling to act on nurses recommendations to improve staffing and patient care, which is a top priority for our members,” she said. “We presented AMITA’s offer to our members and 89 percent rejected it.”

Nurses voted in May to approve a strike after working without a contract in Joliet since early May.  The new deal has been under negotiation since February.

Additional negotiations sessions have been reported for June 30th and July 8th, but early reports suggest nurses will walk before those sessions can take place.

The Illinois Nursing Association filed three unfair labor practice acts against AMITA with the National Labor Relations Board, citing serious federal labor laws.

COVID-19 hangs over the negotiations as nurses want to retain the Extended Illness Bank benefit, which allows nurses to be paid for any illness or injury more than four days, a crucial period of time for frontline health care workers at heightened risk of COVID-19 infections. The benefit allows a nurse up to 12 weeks of sick pay. However, according to Meade, the hospital wants to eliminate the benefit and replace it with an insurance plan that would only provide half the pay nurses currently earn.

AMITA was clear that their proposed wage freeze and elimination of extended illness benefits was not due to inability to pay, but blamed the COVID pandemic for their decision, she added.

AMITA’s parent company Ascension received more than $200 million from the federal government as part of the COVID-19 pandemic relief effort. According to the New York Times, “The St. Louis-based Ascension Health, which operates 150 hospitals nationwide, has received at least $211 million from Health and Human Services. The company, with $15.5 billion in cash, operates a venture capital fund and an investment advisory firm that helps other companies manage their money. Even if Ascension stopped generating any revenue whatsoever — a doomsday scenario — it would have enough cash to fully operate for nearly eight months.”

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