On the Picket Line

Ascension nurses in Texas and Kansas strike over staffing

By Alyson Kennedy
July 17, 2023

AUSTIN, Texas — Nurses at Ascension-owned medical centers here and in Wichita, Kansas, organized an historic one-day strike June 27, the largest nurses strikes ever in both states, demanding higher staffing levels and better working conditions. Immediately after the National Nurses United announced the strike, Ascension said the nurses who struck would be locked out of their job for four days. The nurses, who are fighting for their first union contract, denounced this as a scare tactic.

Hundreds of nurses walked out of Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin and were joined by area unions and members of the community in a spirited picket line and rally, greeted with constant honks from passing cars and trucks.

“We’re looking to have our voice heard,” Lindsay Spinney, a neonatal intensive care nurse and member of the bargaining team at Ascension Seton, told the rally. “There are not enough nurses at the bedside right now in this hospital because they’ve chosen to cut staffing to save money. It’s a bottom-line business decision.”

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses should care for a maximum of two babies at a time. Ascension Seton nurses are regularly caring for three to four babies, she said.

“There is no nurses shortage. There is a shortage of nurses who want to work under these conditions,” Sandy Reding, president of National Nurses Organizing Committee, told the rally.

In September 2022, 72% of the 800 nurses at Ascension Seton Austin voted to join National Nurses United. Six months later 1,000 nurses at the two Ascension hospitals in Wichita did too.

“Some of us began talking about how Ascension made the conditions during COVID the new norm. We started organizing the union and we won the union election and we are now fighting for a contract,” Matthew Clark, an intensive care nurse here who was part of the union-organizing committee, told the Militant. “We have been in continual negotiations since then with very little solid progress. We voted 98% to organize the one-day strike. The support from the community has been fantastic.”

“I support the fight of the nurses at Ascension. I saw the changes in health care when I worked at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston,” said Bridgette Beinecke, who lives in Austin and came to the rally. “They showed on spreadsheets how nurses working four 12-hour shifts were cost efficient.” She said the same thing happened here when Ascension took over.

Ascension is the fourth largest hospital chain in the U.S. and second largest nonprofit. Ascension paid its chief executive $13 million in 2021, has $41 billion in investments and $18 billion in cash reserves after making cuts to hospital staffing, the Texas Observer reported.

“I work in the transition nursery for newborns. I have had as many as 16 deliveries a night. I am the only night shift transition nurse,” Judith Garner said. “When Ascension took over it became more for profit and all about patient numbers.”