Agreement includes pay raises, gives nurses a say in staffing levels
By TIM ROWDEN
Nurses at SSM St. Louis University Hospital ended the year on a high note after reaching a contract agreement with management that raises their pay and ensures they have a say in staffing levels.
“Despite Missouri repealing laws and regulations on patient rights and staffing, we were able to secure in our contract RN-led staffing committees that can hold management accountable to its staffing plans,” said Sarah DeWilde, an RN who has worked for three years in the ICU at SLUH.
“We won language that affirms our rights as our patients’ advocates in the facility and which allows us to speak up when management is not acting in the best interests of our patients.”
National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United represents nearly 700 nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital. Union nurses ratified the contract on Dec. 12.
Nurses had authorized a strike before reaching the contract agreement.
Kellie Allen a Registered Nurse who serves on the union’s bargaining committee, announced the agreement to delegates at the Dec. 17 meeting of the St. Louis Labor Council.
“We ratified our contract!” Allen exclaimed to cheers and applause from the assembled delegates.
Allen noted that the new contract includes a union security clause, meaning that nurses must pay dues to be a member of the NNOC and to work at SLU Hospital.
The contract also includes guarantees access for union representatives.
“That was a strike vote,” Allen said. “We took a strike vote because they did not want our Labor reps. to have access to the new building,” a new 316-bed, 802,000-square-foot replacement hospital and outpatient care center under construction on the north side of the existing hospital between Rutger and Lasalle streets, adjacent to the hospital’s current location on Grand Avenue.
“We won that fight,” Allen said.
Other highlights of the contract include:
- Supporting safe staffing for safe patient care. A provision in the new three-and-a-half-year contract requires quarterly meetings between nurses and hospital officials to discuss staffing levels and safety concerns. For instance, nurses have asked for security guards in the emergency department.
During protests over the summer, nurses had complained there weren’t enough workers on duty during shifts, which put patients and nurses at risk.
Nurses and other support staff bear the brunt of worker shortages, Allen said. “Their voice should be heard when deciding how many people work.”
- Short-term disability and maternity leave benefits. Nurses won a new employer-paid short-term disability plan and maternity leave.
- Economic gains and health benefit protections to help retain and recruit experienced nurses. The new contract includes across-the-board pay increases of eight to 31 percent, with a 19 percent median increase over the three-and-a-half-year term, as well as additional wage step increases. Previous wages at the hospital had been 10 percent below market. It also retains health benefits, with no takeaways.
“We have thousands of hospital beds between St. Louis and St. Louis County,” Allen said. “In order to recruit and retain nurses, you have to have an economic package that’s attractive and one that makes nurses want to stay where they are.”