BOA votes for resolution in favor of SLU nurses union, urges SSM to ‘negotiate in good faith’

Published: Sep. 4, 2023 at 5:32 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 6:11 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Nurses at St. Louis University Hospital are one step closer to a strike after an overwhelming vote earlier this month.

At a meeting this afternoon, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted in favor of a resolution that supports the union nurses at SLU Hospital in “their campaign for safe staffing and working conditions” and “urges SSM to negotiate in good faith to swiftly reach an agreement with National Nurses Organizing Committee that recognizes the essential work of registered nurses.” The board also “urges SSM to report on efforts to hire and retain registered nurses and report back to this Board on a regular basis, at least once every 30 days.”

National Nurses United, the union for SLU Hospital nurses, said 94% of nurses voted to authorize their bargaining team to call for a strike on Sept. 1. On Sept. 15, SLU nurses gave Saint Louis University Hospital notice that they will conduct a one-day strike starting at 7 a.m. on Sept. 25.

“It is absolutely a last resort,” said Hadas Becker, an emergency room nurse at SLU.

Becker does not want to stop going to work and be on a strike.

But she said if SSM Health, which runs SLU Hospital, isn’t listening or respecting her union’s bargaining team, they now can initiate one.

“We don’t want to use it, we’ll only use it when it’s absolutely necessary, it is a very difficult decision,” said Becker.

Back in July, the nurses brought their issues to the public.

And held a picket outside SLU Hospital, they said there is a revolving door of nurses at SLU and that their nurse vacancy rate, sitting around 30 percent, is higher than other nearby hospitals.

“Over the last three years we’ve hired enough nurses to staff this place twice, so where are they? They keep leaving,” said Sarah Dewilde, a SLU nurse, at the July protest.

Becker said if a strike happened, it would start as a one-day strike and that they’d obey the law and give at least ten days notice.

She said they want to see more staff and better pay, telling First Alert 4 that if that happened, they could spend more time with each patient and their family.

“Family support in nursing is really a holistic job, we’re not just looking at your vital signs, we are looking at everything,” said Becker.

Nurses at SLU are the only unionized nurses in the area, according to Becker.

There was nearly a strike four years ago, but a deal was made that averted a strike in 2019.

SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital sent First Alert 4 the following statement in regard to the Sept. 25 strike:

While SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital (SLU-H) continues to bargain in good faith with the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), and advocate for positive solutions, the NNOC has remained wholly resistant. Since August 29, the NNOC has declined to respond or counter our proposals on key wage issues. Negotiations can only make progress when both sides are motivated and engaged. Rather than focus on bargaining, the NNOC has now announced it will pull nurses away from patient care to participate in a 24-hour strike at the hospital set to begin at 7am on Monday, Sept. 25.

Hospitals and health systems in St. Louis, and across the country, continue to face significant challenges due to the nation’s critical shortage of nurses and health care professionals. Like many hospitals, we are utilizing agency staffing, as appropriate, to maintain safe staffing while we actively recruit additional nurses to join our team. Unfortunately, the highly divisive and politically-motivated strategies which are routinely used by NNOC across the country – including strike threats and attempts to publicly disparage SLU-H and the exceptional care our team provides – are counterproductive to our efforts to continue attracting and retaining nurses to our world-class academic medical center. It’s also important to note that while the NNOC states that 94% of nurses voted to authorize a strike – the NNOC leaders excluded more than 40% of SLU-H nurses from voting because they refuse to pay union dues.

We deeply value all our talented, compassionate and dedicated nurses and professionals who provide exceptional health care services to our patients and community every day. We’re disappointed the NNOC has chosen to pull nurses away from patient care to participate in a strike rather than continue our discussions at the bargaining table. As a non-profit Mission-based organization, providing extraordinary care to our patients, creating a culture where team members can thrive and making our communities a better place to live is our priority. When the union is ready to engage, we remain committed to reaching an agreement that provides our nurses with a strong, market competitive compensation and benefits package – while ensuring continued exceptional care and service at SLU-H.

Patient safety is our top priority, and our health ministry is well-prepared to remain open and care for our patients during any work stoppage event. We will have a comprehensive contingency plan in place to ensure there is no disruption in care or service for those we are privileged to serve.

We look forward to returning to the bargaining table to reach an agreement that supports our nurses and patients – while continuing our focus on fostering a positive, supportive workplace where all team members can thrive. This includes significant ongoing investments to ensure competitive compensation and benefits, opportunities for career development and growth, and programs to support team member physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.