Saint Louis University nurses give notice for historic one-day strike for patient safety

First SLU nurses strike in the history of the hospital

REGISTERED NURSE Marchelle Vernell holds a sign conveying her message “If nurses are outside, something is wrong. We are in an acute crisis of care right now,” she said as nurses rallied outside SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital on July 19 to demand safe staffing levels and a fair contract. – Labor Tribune photo

By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

St. Louis – Nurses at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital (SLU) in St. Louis,  gave notice Sept. 15 that they will hold their first-ever strike for one day, from Sept. 25  at 7 a.m. to Sept. 26 at 6:59 a.m., to protest the administration’s refusal to address RNs’ deep concerns about patient care, safe staffing, and workplace violence, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).

This 10-day notice of the nurses’ intent to strike follows a 94 percent strike authorization vote on Sept. 1. The notice is intended to give the hospital time to allow for alternative plans to be made for patient care.

SLU nurses have been in negotiations since May 2023 for a new contract with little to no movement on key issues.

The vacancy rate for RN positions at SLUH has been higher than 30 percent since the spring of 2022. The nurses say short staffing jeopardizes patient and staff safety and also results in increased workplace violence.

The RNs held an informational picket about their concerns on July 19 and are urging management to invest in nursing staff and agree to a contract that addresses nurse retention and workplace violence prevention.

“For us nurses, a strike is a last resort, but we are at the point where more patients will be harmed if we don’t strike,” said Jay Weaver, RN in the post-anesthesia care unit at SLU. “We want to give our patients the best care and we know that staff nurses provide the high-quality care our patients deserve. Management must do more to retain and recruit nurses.”

‘FIGHTING FOR OUR PATIENTS’
“We care deeply about our community in the St. Louis area and we want to give them the high-quality care they deserve,” said Kellie Allen, RN on the 8 North medical-surgical unit at SLU. “We are fighting for our patients and that means demanding safe staffing. Studies have shown that safe staffing saves lives. Yet management refuses to adopt safe staffing standards. That’s why we are striking.”

RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENT
“A hospital is a place of healing and that means it should be a safe place for patients and for nurses,” said Taylor Smith, RN in the 6 North medical-surgical unit at SLU.

“We have proposed many protections and practices to prevent workplace violence, but management has not given them serious consideration. It is SSM Health’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment. Management needs to protect the spaces where people come to be healed by stopping physical violence and threats from ever occurring in the first place.”

EPIDEMIC OF WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
There is an epidemic of workplace violence against nurses and health care workers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, RNs in private industry in the United States experienced a rate of 18.2 violence-related injuries per 10,000 full-time employees. This injury rate for RNs is more than four times higher than the violence-related injuries for workers overall in the same year.

Between 2011 and 2020, as reported in the Bureau’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, at least 80 hospital workers died as a result of violence in their workplaces.

According to National Nurses United (NNU), 40.5 percent of hospital nurses surveyed in the fall of 2022, reported a small or significant increase in workplace violence incidents.

National Nurses Organizing Committee has represented the nurses at St. Louis University Hospital since 2012.


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