Nurses are on strike for the second time in three months to demand better pay and staffing at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet Hospital.
The two-day strike began early Tuesday morning outside the hospital at 333 Madison St. after negotiations between the union and Ascension have stalled since last summer. The nurses have been operating without a contract since July 19.
Nurse Robyn Richards and her daughter, Valerie Lynch, who’s also a nurse, were among hundreds of nurses who were at the strike. Richards said the strike was “definitely necessary.”
“It’s only deteriorating since Ascension took over. It’s only getting worse,” Richards said.
In a Nov. 16 statement, Ascension officials said they are disappointed the Illinois Nurses Association moved forward with a strike when bargaining teams “have been engaging in good faith bargaining through the formal mediation process with a federal mediator.”
When the nurses were last on strike in late August, the weather was blistering hot.
“Now we’re in the cold and rain,” said Jeanine Johnson, another nurse at the strike.
Johnson said it’s been both “difficult” and “disheartening” for the nurses to operate without a contract since July 19. She said the union wants to get the contract done but the negotiations with Ascension have been going poorly.
“Ascension says they have been bargaining in good faith. And we say no, they have not been bargaining in good faith,” Johnson said.
Ascension officials said they have contracted with a staffing agency to provide them nurses while the union nurses are on strike. The company said they are “contractually required” to commit to four days of work for any nurses replaced during the strike.
Johnson said the union nurses are hurt by Ascension’s use of what they call agency nurses during the strike. She said the nurses they are hired during the last strike did not do their jobs well.
“These are nurses who are here for the money,” she said.
Although, Lynch said she doesn’t believe the agency nurses are to blame.
“This isn’t their fault. It’s Ascension’s fault,” Lynch said.
Will County Judge John Anderson, a candidate for the 3rd District Appellate Court, stopped by the strike to provide nurses coffee and hot chocolate.
“If we can’t support our teachers and nurses, who can we support?” Anderson said.
Nurses at the rally marched with signs that said “Pizza parties won’t fix this,” and “Shame on Kathy Bouma,” who is the director of labor relations for Ascension. In one of their chants, the nurses accused Ascension of having “billions in their purses but [they] won’t pay union nurses.”
The nurses also chanted, “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”
Pat Meade, another nurse at the strike, said she believes Ascension is trying to bust the union at the Joliet hospital. She said Tuesday’s strike is the second one in three months because “there’s no movement, no progress” in negotiations.
“Our patients and the community are the victims in this,” Meade said.