Joliet nurses picket Thursday, take strike vote next week

Next negotiations scheduled for Monday and Tuesday

St. Joseph nurses and supporters picket outside St. Joseph Hospital as contract negotiations continue on Thursday, July 20th, 2023 in Joliet.

Nurses picketed outside Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet hospital on Thursday, a day after their union contract expired and a week before they plan to take a strike vote.

A strike would be the second in three years at Joliet’s only hospital.

Nurses at the picket and press conference continued to make a case that low pay has contributed to an exodus of 300 nurses and has led to staffing levels that they say threaten patient care.

Nurse Mary Sue Bolger said her unit lost eight nurses in six months, six of whom went to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.

“They’re making anywhere from $6 to $12 more per hour there,” Bolger said. “That’s why we’re losing nurses.”

Nurses marched in a picket line on a sidewalk between a hospital parking lot and the Madison Street entrance to the outpatient center, making it obvious to visitors that the hospital had a labor problem.

St. Joseph nurses and supporters picket outside St. Joseph Hospital as contract negotiations continue on Thursday, July 20th, 2023 in Joliet.

One visitor, Loral Sadowski of Shorewood, said she agreed with nurses that there is a staffing problem at the hospital.

“My granddaughter used to be a nurse here,” Sadowski said. “She left two years ago because she couldn’t handle the conditions.”

An Ascension spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the status of negotiations and the nurses characterization of the hospital as being understaffed.

The last negotiations were held Tuesday. Negotiations are scheduled to resume Monday and Tuesday.

The St. Joseph’s Nurses Assocciation, the local that is part of the Illinois Nurses Association, plans to conduct a strike authorization vote on Tuesday through Thursday. The vote would not start a strike but would authorize union leadership to call a strike.

State Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, spoke at the press conference, noting she was wearing the same T-shirt she wore three years ago when joining striking nurses on the picket line.

State Senator Rachel Ventura, a Joliet resident, speaks at a press conference during a picket outside St. Joseph Hospital as contract negotiations continue on Thursday, July 20th, 2023 in Joliet.

Ventura emphasized that Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet was Joliet’s hospital and for many residents, including her, it was a neighborhood hospital.

“At a time when other hospitals have given huge raises to retain their nurses. our hospital has lost nurses to those hospitals,” Ventura said.

Ventura was one of several elected officials who joined nurses at the event.

Others included Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy, four members of the City Council, and a member of the Will County Board.

Nurses preparing for another contract showdown have been preparing for months by soliciting community support for their cause.

Also at the Thursday press conference was Tony Seminary, business agent and organizer for Joliet-based Teamsters Local 179.

“Joliet is a union town,” Seminary said. “We will stand by these nurses. We will stand by our nurses until this is over.”