Nurses Across The Country Are Going On Strike

Supermajority Education Fund

November 22, 2019

Across the country, nurses are going on strike to demand better staffing and a safe and inclusive workplace. On November 16, nurses at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle voted to approve a strike, and the week before, nurses of the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) voted to walk out on November 26. 

The nurses at Swedish Medical Center, who are represented by the union SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said they had experienced unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions, and dangerously low staffing levels. They also want to improve wages and healthcare benefits. These nurses will decide whether to officially strike after two more bargaining sessions, the last of which is in December, KING5 News reported. They will give their employer ten days of notice before a work stoppage. 

National Nurses United, which represents 2,220 UCMC nurses, also say their staff to patient ratios aren’t sufficient. Their upcoming walkout will be their second strike this year and will last one day, reported NBC5 Chicago.

The nursing profession is overwhelmingly female — there are 9.5 to 1 female registered nurses to male registered nurses according to 2015 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In Washington and Illinois, the rate is even higher at 10.2 to 1 and 12.8 to 1 respectively. 

Rebecca Kolins Givan, Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University, told Supermajority News that while nurses have become “increasingly frustrated,” they’re “in a really strong position” to bargain, which could explain the increase in strikes this year. “They’re highly skilled. They’re in short supply in the labor market,” she added.

Nurses have also demanded that management address safety in the workplace. Gloria Martin, a Registered Nurse at Swedish Medical Center, told Supermajority News that management must  ensure equipment works properly and provide better security to protect nurses from dangers they face.  

Management must also implement a better system to address concerns of racism, discrimination, and harassment. Now, Martin explained, racial discrimination reports “kind of falls in the cracks.” Martin and other healthcare workers are advocating for management leaders to address this and commit to data analysis to better understand such behavior.

The union has said Swedish punished workers for union activity, including terminating some for union activity.

In response, Swedish Medical Center (SMC) told Supermajority News, “Swedish does not retaliate against any employee for engaging in union activities. We respect and affirm the rights of our represented caregivers to engage in union activity.”

SMC added, “We remain committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations at the bargaining table to reach an agreement that reflects our core values and the best interests of our caregivers. … This year, Swedish has so far compensated our employees for 3,158 hours of time they spent in collective bargaining on behalf of their union.”

UCMC told NBC5 Chicago that it “offered significant compromises on many key issues,” that the union had rejected all of them, and did not wait for UCMC’s response before giving them a strike notice.