Media Statement: INA Contract Dispute Injunction Request

Statement from Michael Zenn, CEO, University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics

Yesterday, the University of Illinois Hospital filed a Verified Complaint seeking a court order to enjoin certain critical care nurses who are represented by the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) from striking in the event of an INA strike. The INA has indicated they may strike for seven days starting on Saturday, September 12.

The University of Illinois Hospital, the only state hospital in Illinois, is committed to providing high-quality clinical care to Illinois residents. We are in the midst of a pandemic and maintaining adequate staffing for critical health care functions is even more urgent in these times. Should a work stoppage occur, we must be prepared to continue safe patient care and ongoing operations.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act provides for this action based on urgent needs. The hospital is not seeking to enjoin all members of the INA from striking; but, instead, has narrowly identified certain units and/or titles who it believes would create a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public should they be allowed to strike. In both 2014 and 2017, when INA announced its intent to strike, the university took similar action with respect to nurses working in many of the same units it now seeks to enjoin and the Courts agreed—entering temporary restraining orders in both cases.

We will do everything within our power to avert a strike and are prepared to continue bargaining for as long as it takes to reach a successful agreement with INA. The UI Health team has been engaged in extensive bargaining with INA in an effort to avoid a strike. We have met 20 times since June 9 and additional sessions are scheduled for today, tomorrow and Friday.

We value and respect the critical role our nurses and other healthcare professionals play in fulfilling this mission by providing vital care for our community. We are hopeful that both parties will reach a fair and equitable new contract that continues our tradition of generous wages and fair working conditions for our valuable nursing colleagues, while being fiscally sustainable for the Hospital.

Please note:

Economics

  • We believe that all of our employees should receive competitive wages and, in fact, UI Health nurses at all levels are already among the highest compensated in Chicago, statewide and across the United States. On average, UI Health nurses earn over $20,000 a year more in base hourly compensation than their counterparts. This figure does not include overtime, shift differentials or other peripheral pay that further increase our nurses’ annual compensation.
  • The INA has proposed a 4% wage increase for each of the next three years. This does not include the INA’s proposed increases in differentials or other peripheral pay. We believe any wage increase must reflect current economic conditions and the fiscal challenges facing the healthcare industry and the State of Illinois, including our Hospital.
  • UI Health was a trailblazer in Illinois regarding COVID differential pay, and we did not layoff or furlough a single staff member during the pandemic. It was important to us to retain and pay all staff throughout the pandemic, even those whose roles were partially or fully diminished while some routine clinical services were suspended.

PPE

  • From the beginning of the pandemic, we have followed the latest scientific guidelines from local and national public health officials, which have changed dramatically and rapidly over the last few months. All care providers at UI Health haven been provided guidance to use personal protective equipment as recommended by the CDC and in many cases we have implemented recommendations that go beyond the CDC guidelines:
    • On March 27, we were one of the first hospitals in Chicago to implement universal masking of all patients and staff, with fit-tested N95 masks available to staff interacting with COVID or suspected COVID patients.
    • On April 22, we made non-fit tested KN95 masks available to all staff.
    • On June 29, we also began providing face shields for all employees.
  • We continue to monitor the guidelines and our supplies to ensure that we are well prepared to care for patients and staff today and in the future. This includes partnering with the INA and the SEIU to request additional support from our elected officials to ensure supply chain availability of needed PPE—in particular, N95 masks.
  • UI Health is committed to leading the country in expanding use of PPE when the acute national shortage is resolved.

Staffing

  • UI Health’s nurse staffing proposal, “Staffing for Safe Patient Care,” which was shared with the INA in our negotiations, is a patient acuity-based model that focuses on obtaining the right nurse at the right time to care for each patient, so we can achieve the highest level of safety, quality, service and health outcomes.
  • Staffing by acuity also recognizes the professionalism of our nurses by taking into account each nurse’s education level, expertise, skills, knowledge, judgement and experiences. It leads to better health outcomes, more consistent and manageable nursing workloads, higher staff satisfaction and better patient experiences.
  • The largest national nursing organizations, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and American Organization of Nurse Leaders (AONL), support only patient acuity-based staffing models. The Illinois Nurse Staffing by Patient Acuity Law actually requires that all Illinois hospitals staff in this way.
  • UI Health does not support staffing ratios. One-size-fits-all staffing ratios are too rigid and remove flexibility. They ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift-to-shift basis. Nurse staffing ratios also result in longer Emergency Department (ED) wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services and higher operating costs.