Ascension Pushes Through Nurse Contract Proposal That Was Voted Against Last Year

The most recent contract offer that the owners of St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, billed as their “last, best and final offer” to the Illinois Nurses’ Association will be put into place, despite only 21% of the nursing staff approving the contract. WJOL has learned from Ascension that in spite of the offer being voted down by the nurses of Ascension St. Joseph, they intend to implement the contract into place starting on January 21st. In a statement to Ascension St. Joseph Hospital, they told WJOL:

On December 22, 2023, Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet reasserted to Illinois Nurses Association (INA) our last, best and final offer for our RN successor contract and declared an impasse. Per the union’s request, the two bargaining teams met last Friday (January 5) to discuss any adjustments the union may have to present. The union arrived to the session without any proposals or adjustments for us to consider. With this, we will be moving forward with implementing our final contract proposal on January 21, 2024.

We have already begun the work of updating our compensation models and systems to ensure we can start paying our nurses their increased wages as soon as possible. Given the large size of this bargaining unit, and the shift to placing our nurses on the new wage scale based on years of licensure, this work will take us three pay periods from the January 21, 2024 implementation date to complete. In accordance with our best and final offer proposal, new wages will be effective March 3, 2024. We will also be implementing improved policies around new hire orientation, our critical staffing incentive program and referral bonuses, as well as instituting increases in float differential and call pay as of the January 21 implementation date. 

We are proceeding on this path because it is the right thing to do for our nurses, patients and community. We can no longer delay paying our nurses a competitive wage and must be able to successfully recruit and hire nurses to support our care teams. Joliet residents deserve ready access to the quality care they expect from Saint Joseph – Joliet, and we have the responsibility to ensure we have the ability to provide that care to all who need it, now, and for generations to come.

Following the statement from Ascension, the Illinois Nurses Association released a statement of their own:

In the past two months, Ascension St. Joseph in Joliet, Illinois has lost its Chief Nursing Officer, its CEO and 30 members of its unionized nursing staff. This high turnover accompanies the announcement by the hospital’s parent company Ascension Health that it will be implementing its most recent contract offer on January 21st, despite the results of a union vote that showed only 21% of staff nurses approved of the deal. The two parties have continued meeting but Ascension corporate has messaged that they have no intention of making additional movement.

Last month nurses at St. Joseph voted overwhelmingly against ratifying the Ascension proposal with many saying it was not adequate to fixing the hospital’s staffing crisis. In typical union contract negotiations, when an employer claims to have reached their “last, best and final” offer, the language is put to the membership of the union to either accept or reject. In the case of rejection, the parties return to the table to find a deal. Ascension is taking a novel approach by claiming that they plan to implement their final offer with or without the consent of their workers and without being able to demonstrate that neither of the parties have more room to move.

Lawyers representing the Illinois Nurses Association say that this is uncharted territory legally speaking.

“We believe this is illegal because there is no evidence of the ‘impasse’ Ascension is claiming,” INA legal counsel Matt Bartmes said. “But beyond that, we have only found a handful of examples of a company attempting to push through a contract that has been soundly rejected by a majority of its workforce.”

Nursing staff at the hospital is continuing to drop, with 30 more nurses leaving for better opportunities or retirement just in the final two months of 2023. Remaining nurses say that the language in the contract mandating nurses can be “pulled” to units they aren’t trained for is deeply unsafe.

“The hospital is employing policies that directly lead to our patients dying, “ nurse Jeanine Johnson said. “The nurses at Joe’s are doing everything in our power to protect the people of Joliet but it has become clear that Ascension cares more about busting our union than it cares about saving lives.”

Stay tuned to 1340 WJOL for continuing coverage of this developing story