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Hundreds of nurses strike at U of I hospital after talks break down

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Governor (44) , Hospitals, Health Facilities Planning Board (48)

(The Center Square) – Hundreds of nurses and hospital staffers walked off the job in a state-run hospital in Chicago over the weekend, demanding better staffing ratios and that Gov. J.B. Pritzker intervene on their behalf.

The nurses walked out of the University of Illinois Hospital on Saturday morning after nearly a month of bargaining.

“We are disappointed that despite progress in this week’s lengthy negotiations, including a 14-hour session on Friday, September 11, we were not able to reach an agreement with the INA,” said UIH CEO Michael Zenn in a statement on the strike. “Over the past three months, UI Health and the INA have participated in more than 20 negotiating sessions, more than half of those under the guidance of federal mediators.”

In a call Friday, INA President Doris Carroll said talks had broken down over not only how many patients each nurse was allowed to have but also what type of afflictions may require more of the nurse's attention. 

“The number of falls, the number of infections, heart attacks and deaths increase in a hospital when a nurse has too many patients to care for,” she said. 

Paul Pater, a nurse at UIH and INA board member, called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in his capacity as chairman of the hospital’s board, to intervene on the union’s behalf 

“Governor Pritzker, you looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and told me these absurd games that play with the livelihoods of my members were over,” he said. “As the head of the university’s board of trustees, you have the power to end the nonsense and bad-faith bargaining that has endemic to our talks. Please stand with the working class who elected you.” 

Pritzker’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment about the strike on Monday. 

The University of Illinois board of trustees succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order from a judge to limit how many nurses can walk off the job, meaning many nurses must be working at all times.

Other healthcare workers joined the nurses on Monday, namely members of the Service Employees International Union. 

The strike, which is scheduled to last seven days, comes as the state continues to see slightly-elevated COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. On Monday, officials reported 1,373 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, including five additional deaths.

The hospital also recruited additional workers from other states, something the union said could be dangerous because some are from places where COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly.