Nurses at AMITA Saint Joseph Medical Center will take a vote next week to authorize a strike as their union and the hospital negotiate a new contract.
The nurses union said the hospital has reduced their numbers and wants to cut sick-pay benefits in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two sides have been meeting with a federal mediator this week to negotiate.
The union members will be voting on May 28 and May 29 to potentially authorize a strike, according to Chris Martin, a spokesman for the Illinois Nurses Association.
Their previous contract expired on May 9, according to the INA.
Union representatives noted the results of the vote do not mean the nurses will actually strike. Martin said a vote to authorize a strike is intended to send a message to the hospital about the nurses "resolve" to retain their numbers.
Pat Meade, a nurse at the hospital and lead negotiator, argued an authorization to strike is meant to maintain their ability to adequately care for their patients.
"We're trying to retain our nurses," she said. "Because we have a high standard and quality of care."
INA said AMITA this year reduced the number of nurses from 825 to 721. Between 15 and 20 have tested positive for COVID-19, and 16 were furloughed in April, the INA said.
Meade added that the negotiations this week have yielded "very little progress" thus far.
"We have consistently tried to bargain in good faith," she said.
AMITA Health spokesman Tim Nelson lauded the work of the nurses in a statement, calling them "superheroes."
He argued the hospital has "responded to the needs" of the nurses with benefits like incentive pay for those taking additional shifts caring for COVID-19 patients and an emergency assistance fund for those directly impacted by the pandemic.
Nelson said these and other measures show the hospital has valued its nurses.
"The broad points mentioned by the INA — sick time and staffing — are simply shifts toward industry standards, consistent with what you will find throughout the Chicagoland health care landscape, as well as offering what we believe to be more robust benefits that will be available to all nurses, current and future," Nelson said in a statement.
Nelson added that AMITA will continue to negotiate for a new contract in good faith.
"The collective response of every associate at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet to the COVID-19 pandemic has been inspiring, and we are committed to supporting and equitably caring for our entire workforce," he said.