More than 1,300 nurses voted overwhelmingly Wednesday evening to approve a new contract with the University of Illinois Hospital and clinics, after a weeklong strike.
The nurses voted 842-13 in favor of the new, four-year contract. The nurses’ union, the Illinois Nurses Association, had reached a tentative agreement with the hospital Sept. 24 after the strike ended Sept. 19.
A major sticking point in contract negotiations had been nurse-to-patient ratios. The nurses wanted ratios and the hospital did not, saying it preferred a model that matched nurses’ skills with patients’ needs.
Ultimately, the hospital committed to hiring the equivalent of at least 160 full-time nurses, “creating natural nurse-to-patient ratios that improve core staffing and quality of care,” according to a union news release. The hospital also agreed to raises of 1% the first year, 1.5% the second year, 1.75% the third year, and 2% the fourth year of the contract, as well as the implementation of various safety and protective measures.
“This contract represents a vast improvement compared to where we were before the strike and we are happy to see that the hospital recognized the importance of supporting the nurses,” said Doris Carroll, Illinois Nurses Association president, in a news release.
Michael Zenn, CEO of University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics, said in a statement last week that he was pleased the strike had ended and believed the new agreement was in the best interests of patients and employees.
During the strike, the hospital worked with an agency to bring in temporary nurses, asked ambulances to take new patients elsewhere, didn’t take patient transfers from other hospitals and canceled elective procedures.
The strike was supposed to include all the union nurses, but a Cook County judge ruled that 525 nurses who work in critical care units couldn’t participate because it would endanger patients’ safety. The University of Illinois Board of Trustees had sued to keep many of the nurses from striking.
The hospital also reached tentative agreements with four bargaining units of the Service Employees International Union Local 73 last week, ending a strike by about 4,000 of that union’s workers. Those workers included clerical, technical, building and maintenance and professional employees at the hospital as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago and regional medical schools in Peoria, Rockford and Urbana.
Those workers are in the process of voting on the tentative contracts, and results are expected in coming days.
Nurses at other hospitals in Illinois and across the country have also gone on strike in recent years over staffing issues.
Earlier this year, more than 700 nurses at Amita Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet went on strike for more than two weeks over staffing levels and issues related to pay and benefits. Last year, about 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center went on a one-day strike, which was followed by a four-day lockout.
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