Hundreds of union nurses waved signs and marched around AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels at the hospital.
The nurses with the Illinois Nurses Association went on strike early Saturday morning at the Joliet hospital after contract negotiations between INA and AMITA broke down.
INA Executive Director Alice Johnson was at the strike and said the nurses are protesting AMITA’s “illegal and intimidating tactics” during the contract negotiations and pushing for improved staffing.
Johnson said the union received documents from nurses stating the staffing level at the hospital is unsafe.
“They’re fighting for the safety of the patients and they just want to be treated fairly by AMITA,” she said.
Pat Meade, the lead union nurse in Joliet, said in a statement that AMITA is “prepared to spend millions of dollars fighting the nurses’ union but refuses to invest in hiring enough nurses to provide safe care for the patients.”
AMITA spokesman Tim Nelson said AMITA is a faith-based organization that respects “our associates’ legal rights to engage in collective and concerted activity” and it has “fully complied with all requirements” under the National Labor Relations Board throughout negotiations leading up “to this unfortunate strike.”
Nelson said a minimum number of patients were transferred before the strike. He also provided a statement that said AMITA is disappointed INA decided to strike.
“This is an unfortunate development that affects all our valued associates, whether represented by the union or not. Nonetheless, we are prepared to provide uninterrupted, high quality care and service throughout the possible strike. The health and the safety of our community are always our top priorities,” the statement said.
AMITA’s statement also said it stands ready to continue contract negotiations and a final offer was presented to INA on Friday that “addressed many of the issues under negotiation, including retention of extended illness benefits (EIB) and wage increases for years two and three of the contract — no three-year wage freeze — as well as tuition reimbursement and anniversary paid time off.”
There is no end date set for the strike, according to INA spokesman Chris Martin.
Several state lawmakers were at the rally, including state Rep. John Connor, D-Crest Hill, and state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood.
Connor said he’s been told the Joliet hospital is the only one within AMITA that has a union for nurses.
“To me, it’s very important we support the union nurses here so they don’t get hammered down because of a corporate wide policy,” he said.
Connor said he support nurses' union.
“This union in particular during a pandemic is devoted to keeping people alive, keeping people healthy and we have to do the same for them,” he said.
Dagmara “Dee” Avelar, who is running for Connor’s seat in November, said she was at the strike because she is a member of the National Organization of Legal Services Workers union and she wanted to show solidarity with INA.
“They’re asking for basic things during a pandemic,” Avelar said.
Bishop Steven Evans, pastor of Leap of Faith Ministries church, went to the strike to show his support. He said his family and his church appreciate the work of the nurses.
“You, ladies and gentlemen, have placed your own lives in harm’s way with the advent of COVID-19 and you have remained on the front lines and because of that, whether the administration says it, whether the city says or not, we are here to say thank you,” Evans said.