Federal mediator involved in Ascension Joliet nurses contract talks

Bargaining sessions continue one month after lockout

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.

Nurses have turned to state and federal legislators for help as contract talks drag on at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet hospital.

The nurses’ union and Ascension have met three times with a federal mediator present since a strike combined with a lockout ended on Aug. 26.

“They’re moving very slow,” Katherine Soprych, membership chair for the Illinois Nurses Association local in Joliet, said Tuesday of Ascension Health’s negotiating team. “We wish they would move more. But it doesn’t seem that they are. So, we’re really frustrated with it.”

A spokeswoman for Ascension Health did not respond to a request for comment on the negotiations.

The next contract talks are scheduled for Oct 6, although the two sides could lose their federal mediator if a federal government shutdown occurs in Washington amid ongoing congressional division over funding issues.

Soprych said the union met last week with state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, chair of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, to seek help on paycheck issues. The union met with U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth to discuss staffing, perhaps the biggest issue in the contract talks, and the health company’s nonprofit status.

“We talked with them, and they said they would be willing to writ a letter to the CEO and see what other steps they may take,” Soprych said.

The union contends that paycheck errors often lead to nurses being underpaid and that Ascension is slow to correct errors.

It wants a state legislative investigation into paycheck practices and a federal legislative investigation into Ascension Health’s nonprofit status, contending Ascension draws profits that otherwise could be used to improve staffing and equipment at the hospital.

The number of staff nurses at the hospital has declined from 800 to 530 in the past five years, according to the union.

The nurses’ contract expired on July 19.

Nurses continued working but called a two-day strike on Aug. 22 over alleged unfair labor practices concerning the use of contracted non-union agency nurses at the hospital.

Ascension imposed a two-day lockout on the tail end of the strike, saying its contract for replacement nurses during the strike required that they be employed for at least four days.