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April 6, 2004

INA rejects Hospitals' proposed contract

The Illinois Nurses Association (INA) overwhelmingly voted to reject the most recent contract offer put forth by the University of Chicago Hospitals last Wednesday, and may vote to authorize a strike tomorrow.

The dispute over the new contract, which has been in negotiations since October, comes in the wake of the highly publicized firings of 52 University of Chicago Hospitals staff members for illegal parking in January.

According to a message on the University of Chicago nurses' hotline, the nurses will be able to cast their vote tomorrow to decide whether their management leaders can organize a strike if current contract negotiations break down.

Under the terms of the rejected contract, the nurses would have received pay raises averaging 5.6 to 8.6 percent per year, and senior nurses with a bachelor's degree working 40 hours a week during the day would have received approximately $80,000 in salary, according to John Easton, the Hospitals' media relations officer.

"We believe that this was a very generous offer and are disappointed by the decision," said Darlene Lewis, the University of Chicago Hospitals' human resources vice-president.

Easton stressed that the hospital does have a contingency plan in place in case the workers do strike, but hopes that both sides will reach an agreement before a strike is called. Resident Nurse Jamie O'Malley, the chief nursing officer at the Hospitals, echoed Easton's sentiments. "I think both sides would much prefer this to work out amicably," he said.

Although no strike date has yet been set, the hotline said that the strike vote was "very important" and assured that the nurses were not in danger of losing their jobs if they decided to authorize a strike. "It has been your negotiating committee's goal to get the best possible contract," the hotline said.

In late January, the Maroon ran a series of stories concerning the firing of 52 University of Chicago hospital workers who had parked without paying in the patient parking lots. The INA filed a grievance on behalf of those workers, alleging that they had been wrongfully terminated.

Still, Easton firmly stated that the January firings had no bearing at all on the contract negotiations. "This has nothing to do with people being terminated," he said. "It's about negotiating a new contract with the nurses' union, something that happens every three years or so. This is an ongoing process that began last October."

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