JOLIET – Nurses at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center this week overwhelming rejected a contract offer made by administration, but both sides remain optimistic that a compromise will be reached without a strike.
Union members voted 497 to 38 against the hospital’s three-year contract offer, which affects nearly 800 nurses at the hospital.
Both sides began bargaining in January. The last contract expired March 24.
A change in staffing policy has administrators and union officials butting heads at the bargaining table, said Tom Ellett, staff specialist with the Illinois Nurses Association, the union that represents nurses at Presence Saint Joseph.
Ellett said nurses want the contract to include mandatory staffing levels that would fluctuate based on need and nurse-to-patient ratio – similar to regulations seen more recently in some California hospitals.
“In large part, what we’re trying to ensure is that there’s sufficient staff able to provide the best level of care for patients,” Ellett said. “Personally, our members feel that their jobs are safer if there is sufficient staff. Then, they’re certainly not overworked and they don’t have to run themselves ragged.”
Currently, the hospital has staffing level guidelines, he said, but those can be modified.
Lisa Lagger, spokeswoman for the hospital, said such mandated ratios in California have not proven to improve patient outcomes such as mortality rates and medication errors.
Allowing both staff and administration to resolve staffing issues at the unit level “affords the Medical Center the flexibility to set staffing levels, with staff nurse input, to best match the needs of our patients,” Lagger said in an email.
Both sides have yet to agree on salary increases. Union officials want a 4 percent increase in pay per year over three years, while administrators are calling for a 2 percent increase, Ellett said.
“I do think there’s a strong possibility of us being able to reach an agreement on what wages will be,” he said. “I don’t see that as difficult to deal with as the staffing levels in question.”
Lagger said the hospital’s offer “reflects an approximate $4 million investment in our nurses over the next three years, including a [6 percent] wage increase over the course of the contract, and various other enhancements.”
Ellett said he’s optimistic with negotiations continuing on Wednesday.
“Our expectation is that a strike isn’t going to be necessary to get a decent contact. Of course, that remains to be seen,” he said. “That’s up to the employer as much as anything, but at this point, we’re still very optimistic that this contract will be resolved without something dramatic like a strike.”
Lagger said hospital officials are disappointed with the nurses’ vote this week, adding that they will continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement.