Joliet nurses start third strike, meet with public

Another 2-day strike followed by a 2-day lockout will run through Sunday

Nurses continue their strike outside Ascension Saint Joseph Joliet on Thursday, Feb. 8th 2024 in Joliet.

Union nurses met with the public Thursday, hoping to spread support for their cause after launching their third short-term strike earlier in the day against Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet hospital since contract talks began in May.

About 50 people came to the meeting, which was more than the Illinois Nurses Association expected. Extra chairs were brought into the room at the Joliet Public Library to provide enough seating.

Union leaders and nurses urged those at the meeting to get involved in what they described as a fight for the community and its local hospital.

“Ascension’s way of doing business is hurting the people of Joliet, and that’s something that needs to stop immediately,” Kaitlynd French, a nurse and communications director for the local INA unit St. Jospeh’s Nurses Association told the audience.

The group included about a dozen nurses who raised their hands to show who was on the picket line earlier in the day. Others, however, were local residents and elected officials, including six members of the Joliet City Council.

Nearly 50 people attended a community meeting held Thursday night by union nurses from Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet hospital at the Joliet Public Library. Feb. 8, 2024.

Pat Meade, a union officer and nurse at the hospital, said she learned after the meeting that members of Ascension management also were in the audience.

“They had an opportunity to speak, and they didn’t,” Meade said.

The audience was asked to help in several ways, including filing complaints with state regulators if they experience negative effects from short staffing while they’re patients at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet.

“We can help you file [a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health],” said Alec Ramsay-Smith, staff specialist with the Illinois Nurses Association. “If you feel unsafe in the hospital, it is better to tell people about it than to remain quiet.”

Nurses contend that short staffing at the hospital is creating unsafe conditions. They point to a decline in staff nurses from 800 in 2019 to less than 500 today.

The current strike was called over an allegation of unfair labor practice, with Ascension unilaterally implementing what it has termed its final contract offer Jan. 21.

Nurses continue their strike outside Ascension Saint Joseph Joliet on Thursday, Feb. 8th 2024 in Joliet.

The offer incudes double-digit pay raises for new and mid-tier nurses but also puts in place new conditions allowing management to move nurses around the hospital, which the union has said puts nurses into areas outside of their skill set.

“I’m just appalled that they had nurses from a dialysis unit, and they send them to a locked psychiatric unit,” Meade said.

The nurses union called a two-day strike. But as occurred during the other two-day strikes, they will be locked out an additional two days by Ascension, which has said its contract for replacement nurses requires that they work at least four days.

Union leaders have said the strikes are making an impact.

“Progress is a slow thing,” French said after the meeting.

But she said Ascension’s chief negotiator on Thursday called to line up two dates for bargaining sessions while management has been reluctant to meet in the past.

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

Ascension spokeswoman Olga Solares issued a statement Thursday morning saying that the hospital is “fully prepared to remain open and care for our patients” during the strike.

Solares said the two sides met again Monday but “remain far apart” on wages.

She said the union “wage proposal continues to not be aligned with Joliet market rates.”

“We understand the concern and questions that complex contract negotiations can create for our community and all involved,” Solares said. “We urge INA to share a wage proposal with our third-party mediator that appropriately reflects our market.”