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December 6, 2004

St. John’s Nurses Standing Up To Employer Attack on Patient Care Standards

Negotiations Between Registered Nurses and Hospital Break Off

Registered Nurses Prepare to Mobilize Supporters in St. Louis and
Throughout the Region

More than 1,700 registered nurses at St. John’s in St. Louis, Mo. are preparing for the fight of their lives – at a time when they would rather be helping patients fight for theirs.  Negotiations between nurses and St. John’s administrators broke off today as hospital administration continues their attack on professional nursing standards.   RNs are preparing to mobilize support from local unions in St. Louis and throughout the region whose members spend millions of health care dollars at St. John’s and other Sisters of Mercy Health System facilities.

The St. John’s RNs organized for a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655 in 1999 so that caregivers would have a say over important patient care issues.  Key to nurses’ contract was the establishment of the Professional Nurse Practice Committee.   Through this committee, caregivers are able to sit down with management to discuss and solve any worksite issues that negatively affects the quality of care nurses are able to provide. Nurses are also fighting to maintain professional compensation standards as key to maintaining high-quality care and a low-turnover workforce.

Now, St. John’s management is making severe demands at the bargaining table that would severely curtail the RN’s ability to continue the high quality care their patients deserve.  The hospital’s most recent proposal includes demands to:

· Eliminate the Professional Nurse Practice Committee where equal numbers of RNs and management can discuss patient care issues.

· Provide minimal wage increases, coupled with reductions in benefits and seniority protections.

Taken together, these demands would significantly threaten professional care standards and lead to turnover which would compromise patient care.

The St. John’s nurses are proud to provide some of the highest quality care in the St. Louis region. Their work sustains this thriving Level 1 Trauma center that is the hub of the local medical community.

The nurses are working hard to avoid a work action like the one they were forced to take in 2001 when picket lines went up at the hospital for 72 hours.  UFCW Local 655 is preparing, if needed, to reach out to labor unions in St. Louis, across the state of Missouri and in communities throughout the region to ask for their help.  St. John’s is part of the Sisters of Mercy Health System which operates health care facilities in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Union members in towns served by a Sisters of Mercy facility would be asked to contact their local hospital to put pressure on the health network to do the right thing in St. Louis.

“My job is taking care of patients and I take great pride in the work that I do.  But if my employer continues to undermine my work and silences my voice over the quality of care we can provide, I’ll have no choice but to take action,” said a long-time nurse at St. Johns.  “It broke my heart to carry a picket sign outside this hospital in 2001 because I never thought my employer would force me to take such drastic action.  But I’m ready to do it again if I have to.  Our patients are that important to me.”
Negotiations between the hospital and UFCW Local 655 bargaining team have broken off and no further dates are scheduled.

“We are willing to meet with St. John’s whenever the hospital is ready to move away from its draconian demands,” said Jim Dougherty, President of UFCW Local 655.  “We are working with our nurses to determine when to give St. John’s the ten-day notice our contract requires that would end our extension and signal the beginning of a work action.”

UFCW Local 655 will be holding a mass meeting in John’s Mercy Medical Center.  RN’s should contact their union representatives or their local union for more information.