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Entrance to emergency room at hospital
It was late on the night of January 29th when a group of nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center voted, 95% in favor, to threaten to go on strike for one day if the hospital continued refusing to bargain with the nurses’ union, National Nurses United (NNU).

There is no set date for the strike, and it’s entirely possible that the strike won’t happen at all if the hospital administration can reach a compromise with the union regarding safety and staffing issues.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, the nurses are frustrated by a few different issues:

  • The hospital’s refusal to address unsafe staffing levels;
  • The hospital’s proposal to “replace with clinically competent RN ‘charge nurses’ on each unit with managers focused on budgetary concerns”
  • The hospital’s plan to put more weight on the requirement that nurses with daytime shifts should be “forced to unsafely ‘rotate’ their schedule” and work both day and night shifts.

    Ultimately, the nurses’ union says that the problems come down to two fundamental issues: putting too much stress on the understaffed nurses, and therefore putting the hospital’s patients at risk.

    The Medical Center has responded to the possible strike with contempt and frustration, saying that it is “extremely disappointed with the outcome of [the nurses’] vote, which authorizes the NNU to call a strike at any time and for any length of time.”

    As the Chicago Tribune notes, the NNU’s arguments do seem valid. The nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center have been working diligently, without a contract, since October 2014. When the hospital announced in January 2015 that it planned on eliminating incentive pay for nurses who work 24-hour shifts, and that it wants the nurses to double their health care contributions by July 2016, the nurses attempted — without much success — to negotiate with the hospital.

    Unfortunately, understaffed units are becoming all too common in hospitals across the country. As more Americans struggle to afford health insurance, and avoid seeking medical care until they have no other option but to go to the emergency room, it’s estimated that hospital ERs alone see about 110 million patients per year. It only makes sense that other units within the same medical facilities would suffer from overcrowding and understaffing as well.

    Negotiations at the U of C Medical Center are reportedly still underway, and the NNU has stated that the nurses genuinely want an agreement to be reached before a strike becomes necessary.

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