Joliet nurses file unfair labor practices against Ascension Saint Joseph

Two sides remain at odds, and Ascension calls it an impasse

Union nurses on strike on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet Hospital, 333 Madison St., Joliet.

Ascension announced Tuesday that it will implement its final contract offer to nurses at its Joliet hospital, a move that the nurses’ union is calling illegal.

The contract offer includes double-digit pay increases at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet but falls short of what the Illinois Nurses Association said is needed to stem the loss of staff going to other hospitals for higher pay and better working conditions.

Ascension, meanwhile, said the pay hikes and other provisions of the final offer need to be implemented to keep and recruit nurses.

The gap between the two sides remained obvious Tuesday after eight months of contract negotiations.

While Ascension said it was moving ahead with the contract, the union has filed an unfair labor practice act to try to stop them and is contemplating other actions including more short-term strikes by nurses.

The two sides met Friday without making any breakthroughs in the contract talks that have been going on since May.

“The union arrived to the session without any proposals or adjustments for us to consider,” according to a news release from Ascension. “With this, we will be moving forward with implementing our final contract proposal on January 21, 2024.”

Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

Ascension is implementing the contract after previously declaring an impasse.

The INA in less than a half-hour issued its own statement contending there is no impasse on which to base implementation of the contract, which has been rejected by nurses.

“We believe this is illegal because there is no evidence of the ‘impasse’ Ascension is claiming,” INA legal counsel Matt Bartmes said in the union’s news release. “But beyond that, we have only found a handful of examples of a company attempting to push through a contract that has been soundly rejected by a majority of its workforce.”

Union nurses voted on the contract proposal in December, and only 21% voted to approved it.

Ascension said wage increases provided in the contract proposal will be effective March 3.

According to Ascension’s release, processing the new pay scale will take three pay periods because of the size of the nursing staff.

About 500 INA nurses work at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet. That’s down from 800 just a few years ago because nurses have been leaving the hospital due to pay and working conditions, according to the INA.

Nurses and supporters chant while picketing outside Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet hospital on the first day of a two day strike, followed by a two day lockout on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023.

The INA said 30 nurses left in the last two months of 2023, a period in which the hospital’s president and its chief nursing officer resigned.

Ascension said it needs to implement the new contract to keep and recruit nurses.

“We are proceeding on this path because it is the right thing to do for our nurses, patients and community,” Ascension said in its release. “We can no longer delay paying our nurses a competitive wage and must be able to successfully recruit and hire nurses to support our care teams.”

Ascension’s final offer includes a nearly 19% increase in the first year for entry-level nurses and a nearly 17% increase for middle-tier nurses. Nurses with 30-plus years experience get a 2% hike.

The INA filed its unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board in December after being told by Ascension that it intended to implement its final offer, INA Lead Organizer Sarah Hurd said. She acknowledged a ruling by the board could take months.

In the meantime, the union is considering other options that include short-term strikes. Nurses already have gone on two two-day strikes based on unfair labor practice claims.

Hurd said the union did not bring new proposals to the talks last week because it was told by Ascension that the hospital would not negotiate beyond the parameters of the final offer. But the union is willing to negotiate, she said.

“We are so far from impasse at this point,” Hurd said. “We have multiple areas of the contract where we have said we can and will move.”