JOLIET, Ill. — Members of the Illinois Nurses Association at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center here set up strike picket lines July 4 in a fight to win safer staffing levels, keep their sick pay and get a raise. There are 720 nurses on strike.
Picketers were joined the next day by two members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 44, some neighbors who brought the strikers cold water and this Militant worker-correspondent who works at Walmart in Chicago. Many drivers passing by honked their car horns to show solidarity.
“In every contract negotiation we fight for a better patient/nurse ratio. Nurses should be making the ratio decisions, not the administrators,” Olga Deschamps, who has worked 25 years as a nurse, told the Militant. “We know what’s safe. Our strike is for patient safety.”
Striker Teresa Mathre has worked 39 years as a nurse. “When the administers calculate the staffing ratio, they count managers as nurses,” she said. “But managers do not do the work of nurses.”
The nurses had been working without a contract since May 9. The bosses are now hiring strikebreakers. The next negotiating meeting is scheduled for July 8.
“AMITA owns 220 hospitals in the U.S. We are the only one with a union. It took a 61-day strike in 1993 to win the union here. This is the first strike since then,” said nurse Joe Sanchez. “The hospital wants to eliminate our sick pay. The hospital says other hospitals in the area don’t have sick pay benefits, so we shouldn’t either.
“We answer that nurses at all other hospitals need sick pay also. The outcome of our strike will affect all nurses,” he said. ”We’re also fighting for a pay raise. The company offer has no pay raise for three years.”