Nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center Wednesday ratified a new four-year contract, the National Nurses United announced.
The union, which represents 2,200 nurses at the academic medical center, said the agreement includes provisions ensuring appropriate nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, a unified pay scale with guaranteed raises and participation in monthly meetings to discuss patient care.
"We are so pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that strengthens patient care at UCMC," Terri Collins, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive-care unit, said in prepared remarks. The medical center and the union had reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 23.
The new contract maintains all 24 patient care support nurses, Collins added, which was a sticking point in the most recent negotiations. The union said the UCMC proposed to eliminate those positions. The medical center denied the allegation, claiming it proposed adding more than 40 new positions over the next 18 months. The 24 patient care support nurses would transition into these and other roles designed to support nurses, the UCMC had said.
The agreement will also improve staffing in a number of intensive-care units and add supplemental float nurses, which will help alleviate staffing issues and reduce turnover, the union said. Nurses will receive pay increases from 11% to 22% over the four-year contract, there will be no pay cuts and all nurses will have a common base hourly rate. Nurses will also be able to participate in professional practice committee meetings.
"The four-year contract reflects our collective commitment to our mission of serving patients and the community," UCMC officials wrote in an internal memo obtained by Modern Healthcare.
The nurses were threatening a one-day strike on Nov. 26 but would've missed an additional four days to satisfy the replacement nurses' minimum five-day contract. A similar scenario played out when they walked out on Sept. 20.
In preparation for the most recent strike threat, UCMC closed its Level 1 trauma center for adult and pediatric patients. The UCMC said it had trouble recruiting 900 temporary replacement nurses, particularly in specialty areas, and had to close additional units.
As of Nov. 22, it closed seven inpatient units including its pediatric intensive-care unit, transferred dozens of pediatric and adult patients and canceled or rescheduled more than 118 surgeries.
Hospital executives and community stakeholders warned staff that strikes can cost health systems tens of millions of dollars as well as reduce care quality, research shows. But unions argue that low staffing levels harm patient care and threats to strike are the only means to hold hospitals accountable and force change.
Meanwhile, threats to strike and walkouts are ramping up throughout the country, including at Kaiser Permanente in California and Providence St. Joseph in the Seattle area.
Unions have been emboldened by other successful strikes, growing pay inequity, the nursing shortage and healthcare's projected job growth amid a tightening labor market, employment experts said.