Joliet Nurses Overwhelmingly Vote Down Ascension Healthcare “Final Offer”

On December 5th, after four months without offering any formal proposals, Ascension Healthcare delivered to the nurses of Saint Joseph Medical Center what they called their “Last, Best and Final” offer. Two weeks later, almost 80 percent of nurses have voted to reject the offer. 

The two parties have been in contract negotiations since May of 2023. The main issues on the table are wages and the ever-expanding demands on staff nurses. Since the contract expired over the summer nurses have gone out on two Unfair Labor Practice strikes, sounding the alarm about dangerous understaffing and the company’s failure to bargain in good faith. 

We came to the table with basically all of our proposals ready and Ascension’s lawyers spent months coming to bargaining sessions with nothing prepared,” nurse and executive board member Patricia Meade said. “Now they are claiming that they ‘can’t move anymore’ and don’t even want to hear our counter proposal.” 

The executive board of the union made the unanimous decision to recommend a “no” vote on the contract. The key sticking points include proposed wages that are below market and mandates that nurses can be pressed into working on units outside of their specialty. Nurses say Ascension has already begun the practice of moving around nurses then pressuring them to do additional work. 

It’s a deal breaker for me, because it’s unfair and unsafe,” Jeanine Johnson said. “They say they just need you as an extra set of hands but next thing you know you’re expected to pass medications, then they are asking you to be the charge nurse and take a team.” 

In the lead up to the vote nurses reported being pressured by managers and receiving repeated emails misrepresenting the language in the offer. The union is requesting that Ascension return to the bargaining table to hear their most recent counter proposal and hopefully reach a compromise that puts the hospital back on the right track. 

When I started at this job, it was demanding but gratifying work.” nurse Beth Corsetti said. “Now I have trouble sleeping on nights before I have a shift scheduled because I have such bad anxiety about what might happen.” 

The union says, “We are asking that the hospital return to the table to hear our counter proposal. We hope they recognize the need to find a deal that the majority of their staff can support.”

Meanwhile, Ascension has sent a statement to WJOL following the “no” vote.

It is unfortunate our fair and reasonable contract proposal was not ratified by our represented registered nurses (RNs). While we remain willing to meet with Illinois Nurses Association (INA) to discuss the benefits and details of our proposal, as we have communicated to INA, our nurses and publicly, the contract proposal that was voted on represents our best and final offer for the RN successor contract.

Ratifying this contract would have allowed us to increase RN wage rates up to 19 percent—improving our ability to recruit and retain nurses from across the region, enhance staffing, and ultimately, provide our nurses with the recognition they deserve. 

We must now review other options for addressing our recruitment and retention needs as we continue to provide quality care to our community.