Ascension Joliet nurses plan to strike this week

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

Joliet — Nurses at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet Hospital have announced that they will once again go on strike, this time Feb. 8-9, in protest of Ascension’s decision to implement its “last best and final” contract offer without union approval.

The St. Joseph’s Nurses Association, which represents 500 union nurses at the Joliet facility under the Illinois Nurses Association, gave its mandatory 10-day notice of the strike on Jan. 29 and “asks their community to show support.”

The strike will be from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. over the two days outside the hospital in Joliet, according to the release.

The nurses have been in a contract struggle with Ascension since last spring, when contract negotiations began. The previous contract expired in July 2023, and the union has staged two strikes in the pursuant months.

The nurses argue that the hospital is understaffed and will remain so under Ascension’s proposed terms because of what it calls its below-market wage offers.

There have also been concerns raised by nurses about working conditions, including contract terms which would allow the hospital to pull nurses between departments regardless of experience, and pay discrepancies.

“The union nurses overwhelmingly rejected Ascension’s last offer for several reasons, including the company’s insistence on certain non-monetary terms and conditions of employment which would pose serious health and safety risks to both nurses and patients,” the union said in its statement. “The nurses have also been moved to strike by mounting chaos and divestment at the hospital.”

In December, the hospital presented a second contract proposal to the union which it said was its “last, best, and final” offer. The union soundly rejected the proposal, saying it did not go far enough to address its concerns.

Despite 79% of nurses voting not to approve the contract – in accordance with INA’s recommendation – Ascension announced on Jan. 21 that it had “reached an impasse” with the union and would be implementing the contract anyway starting in March.

When asked about its response to the new strike announcement, Ascension Senior Director of External Communications Olga Solares said “Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet reasserted to INA our last, best and final offer for our RN contract and declared an impasse on December 22, 2023. Given our impasse with INA, we made the decision to move forward with implementing our last contract offer. 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. Joliet residents deserve ready access to the quality care they expect from Saint Joseph – Joliet, and we have the responsibility to ensure we have the ability to provide that care to all who need it.”

In its statement announcing the strike, INA refuted the notion that it is at a legal impasse as the union has said its willingness to continue negotiations and has requested additional bargaining meetings.

The hospital claims that INA has not offered a “meaningful” counterproposal since Dec. 22 and “instead has opted to call a strike – a decision that is unproductive, and ultimately creates unnecessary burdens for our nurses, patients and community.”

“I’m resentful about the way Ascension has managed the hospital and those of us who work there,” veteran nurse Sue Pellegrini said in the announcement. “They view everything through the lens of cutting costs as if those cuts don’t hurt people.”

The union said that patients have reported facility maintenance issues, including flooding and damaged ceilings, and that nurses fear the hospital’s scheduling systems are not prepared for the implementation of the new contract policies, which could create issues for pay.

As with previous strikes, the hospital has said it is “well-prepared” to remain open during the February strike.

“We have a comprehensive contingency plan in place to ensure there is no disruption in care or service for those we are privileged to serve,” Solares said in Ascension’s statement.

The nurses will be hosting a community town hall event Feb. 6 at the library at 150 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet to inform community members about the contract issues. The union said hospital patients and residents are encouraged to come and talk.