National Nurses United (NNU), the union that represents the majority of nursing staff at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), called for a strike vote last week following four months of unresolved contract negotiations.
The strike vote will take place on January 29. A one-day strike will follow if the majority of UCMC nurses vote for the measure. Negotiations between NNU and the UCMC are set to resume on January 30.
According to Cindy Loudin, the NNU labor representative for the University of Chicago, the union is considering a strike because of pending demands concerning staffing and nurses’ pay.
“I think that a vote in favor of a strike is likely, as we wouldn’t be taking in a vote if we thought that management was responsive,” Loudin said.
As previously reported by the Chicago Maroon, the contract between the union and the UCMC expired on October 31, and both parties have since been unable to establish a new agreement.
According to Loudin, the NNU-represented nurses’ primary objective in the ongoing negotiations is to eliminate the UCMC’s practice of nurse rotation. Rotation is the calling in of a day nurse to work a night shift, or vice versa. Loudin characterized rotation as unsafe and argued that it is used as a means for the UCMC to cut costs at the expense of its nurses.
“It is very unsafe for you to be on a regular day schedule and then randomly work all night long. As for why [the UCMC] does it—it’s in their financial interest, because they don’t have to pay rotators as much as they would a permanent night shift worker,” Loudin said.
According to Loudin, permanent night shift nurses earn a 20 percent premium over their base pay rate per hour for nursing staff, while rotators only earn $2.50 per hour above their base pay, saving the UCMC money.
According to the UCMC’s website, it is currently offering to pay rotators four dollars above base pay per hour, as part of the ongoing negotiations. The website also stated that UCMC nurses are paid, on average, $8.43 more per hour than nurses who work in other Chicago hospitals.
In a statement, UCMC spokesperson Lorna Wong said that NNU’s strike vote was both unexpected and unresponsive to the UCMC’s counterproposals to NNU’s negotiating points.
“The University of Chicago Medical Center was surprised to learn that despite its best efforts to bargain in good faith, the NNU has called for a strike vote on January 29. This strike vote is premature as we have not yet had the opportunity for any detailed negotiation regarding economic proposals. We have received virtually nothing back from the NNU about our proposals, except for a few clarifying questions,” she said.
NNU’s motion to hold a strike vote is not unprecedented. In 2011, following a similar contractual lapse between the UCMC and its nursing staff, NNU voted to strike. According to Loudin, the strike did not occur because a contract was agreed before the day of the strike.
If the UCMC nurses do vote to strike on January 29, the union will give the UCMC 10 days of advance notice so that it may hire non-NNU nurses to work in the hospital on the day of the strike, so the hospital may continue to operate.