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December 8, 2004

Nurses at St. John

Over 1,500 registered nurses at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center are set to strike on December 15 after giving their hospital the required 10-day notice, according to information released to the public at UFCW Local 655’s press conference on Sunday.  Union President Jim Dougherty said that after six months of negotiations, the hospital has worked hard to frustrate nurses to the point of forcing them to take this drastic action.

 
An RN speaks out against St.  John’s Mercy Medical Center at the press conference.

“The nurses at St. John’s are willing to go back to the bargaining table immediately to resolve this before December 15,” Dougherty said, “but the hospital has to be willing to enter into realistic negotiations.”  He also remarked that the hospital’s last proposal was “worse than the one rejected by the nurses by a 95 percent margin” on November 10.

The main issues involved in negotiations are centered on the nurses having a voice in the quality of care available to their patients.  For example, the hospital wants to eliminate the Professional Nurse Practice Committee, which meets monthly to discuss patient care issues, safety concerns, staffing, equipment and RN educational needs.  As an alternative proposal to the elimination, the hospital wants to control the entire committee by appointing all its members.  Currently, the union selects eight RNs to the committee while the hospital selects eight of its own members.

“(The hospital) wants to prevent independent voices from being on the committee.  Our patients deserve to have union nurses on this committee, nurses willing to stand up for their patients,” said Kathy Schleef, an RN who has worked at St. John’s for 23 years.

Dougherty said the hospital is intentionally provoking this confrontation because they don’t belive the RNs will strike.  “This is a serious miscalculation on their part.  While no one wants this strike, the RNs feel strongly that they must take a stand that allows them to be an active voice for their patients.”

Another concern of the RNs is that keeping qualified nurses at St. John’s is a crucial patient care issue.  Colleen Schmitz, a 30-year veteran at St. John’s, said the hospital’s economic and other proposals could force “a majority exodus of qualified nurses.”

Other proposals the hospital made:

• The hospital would give a three percent raise to some nurses, while others would get nothing for three years.  An alternative proposal is a two percent raise with the possibility of a four percent “merit” raise controlled entirely by the hospital.

• The hospital would have the freedom to eliminate or modify health and welfare benefits–and other benefits–as they saw fit.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was involved in negotiations, but broke off December 1 after the hospital offered a package worse than the one rejected in November.  The contract has been extended since it expired on October 22, though negotiations have been going on since early July.

“We’re trying to resolve this without a strike, and have been since July 8 when talks first started,” Dougherty added.  “The hospital could avoid this strike, if they want to.  We’ll see how much they want to on December 15.”