Nurses approve contract at Ascension Saint Joseph–Joliet

Approval rate was 77% of nurses who voted

A group of nurses along with the Warehouse Workers for Justice picket outside Ascension Saint Joseph Hospital in Joliet on Wednesday, Dec. 6th, 2023.

Nurses have approved a new contract at Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet hospital after contract talks that went on for a year.

The Joliet nurses Tuesday completed two days of voting with the contract being approved by 77% of those who voted.

The contract contains the same pay scale that Ascension imposed in March under terms that management called its last, best and final offer, said Pat Meade, an officer with the Joliet local of the Illinois Nurses Association.

But it adds language that requires that only nurses who volunteer can serve as “functional nurses” assigned outside their area of regular duties.

“They have to volunteer to go,” Meade said. “Once again, it is about the specialty care that the patient needs and requires.”

Nurses contended that Ascension under short-staffing conditions was forcing nurses around the hospital into areas of care where they lacked experience. The new contract provision only allows the hospital to pull from nurses who have volunteered to be part of the “functional nurse” staff that can be moved around the hospital, Meade said.

Pat Meade (right), treasurer for the St. Joseph Nurses Association, attends a rally for nurses at Ascension Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

The contract standoff “wasn’t about anything more than patient safety, which is paramount for the nurses,” Meade said.

According to Meade, 81% of the roughly 500 nurses at the hospital voted on the contract.

Of those, 346 voted to approve the contract, and 100 voted against it.

The contract does not include higher pay rates for the most senior nurses than what Ascension provided for in its last, best and final offer.

The Ascension terms provide double-digit pay increases for entry and mid-term level nurses, but small increases for the most senior nurses at the hospital.

The contract, however, does provide senior nurses with additional time off, according to a statement issued Tuesday night by the Illinois Nurses Association.

The contract also provides all nurses with a lump-sum payment for approving the contract, according to the INA release.

Meade said nurses intend to continue to make a case that the hospital is short-staffed on nurses.

According to the INA, Ascension Saint Joseph–Joliet now has about 500 nurses compared to more than 800 when the union approved its last contract in 2020. The Joliet nurses’ last contract expired in July.

Ascension issued a statement saying the contract “respects the needs of our nurses and creates a solid foundation for appropriately recognizing and supporting our nurses for years to come.”