SLUH nurses applying pressure campaign to stop exodus of RNs as contract negotiations drag on


St. Louis – Nurses at SSM St. Louis University Hospital (SLUH) are applying a pressure campaign as contract negotiations drag on, with nurses and allies signing post cards to deliver to the executives at SSM, members of the board of directors and members of the St. Louis University Hospital Foundation board. They are also providing phone numbers of board members and encouraging the public to call and demand they negotiate a fair contract that addresses the nurses’ concerns.

Nurses have leafletted  and gotten postcards signed at the Tower Grove Farmers Market and last week took their message to delegates of the St. Louis Labor Council and attendees at the monthly Faith/Labor Breakfast hosted by Missouri Jobs with Justice.

“These nurses have been going through this for over a year now,” said Joe Barrios, Labor representative for National Nurses United (NNU/NNOC), which represents the nurses at SLUH. “We’re still in a place where there needs to be some serious thought and proposals from the management, particularly in investing in their staff. They have the resources to do this. They’re No. 20 in the top most profitable hospital systems in the country. Their CEO just gave herself a nice raise. They’re building a new children’s hospital at the corner of Choteau Avenue and Grand Blvd. The numbers don’t lie.”

While RNS are fighting for fair wages, it’s worth noting that SSM Health CEO Laura Kaiser recently got a 68 percent raise to the tune of several million dollars.

“It makes me sick, when we’re just asking for a basic cost-of-living adjustment for nurses to retain our current staff,” said Maddi O’Leary, an RN in the bone marrow transplant clinic.

“As a nurse I’m not able to do my job properly coming from a corporation that absolutely has the funds to provide for the nurses who can then provide for the patients,” O’Leary said. “They’re focused on using agency nurses and gig nurses who don’t know our St. Louis community, our patient population.

“We’re a Level 1 trauma center, and heart and stroke center. Our patients are sick, and they need specialized core staff to care for them. We’re just hemorrhaging nurses because Barnes is just right down the street, and they’re paying a lot more than we are right now. We’re the only union nurses in the region, so it’s important to us to maintain good core union nurses.”

SLUH nurses are fighting for patient safety and a fair contract that addresses their concerns about nurse retention and recruitment. The RNs have been in contract negotiations since May 2023 with little to no movement on key issues. Their contract expired on June 15, 2023.

Pay is a big part of the problem.

Registered Nurse MJ Block said he has to pick up extra shifts just to make ends meet. During a recent shift in the emergency department, he was working with a temporary agency nurse with 17 patients  at point on their case load for the evening. The agency nurse was only allowed to care for five of those patients under their contract, which left Block caring for 12 patients on his own.

SLUH has hired 1,700 nurses since  2020 and  lost 1,400 nurses in that same period, Block said.

“It takes 800 nurses to fully staff our hospital,” he said. “So we’ve essentially lost the entire staff of the hospital twice in those three years.”

The hospital’s solution, he says, is to bring in agency nurses and per diem nurses, who get paid slightly more than the full-time nurses, but with no benefits.

“It shouldn’t be that I have to work 60 hours a week to afford my life,” Block said. “Unfortunately, that’s the case for a lot of nurses at SLUH right now. We’ve been in our contract negotiations for a year coming up here in May. I should be coming up on my second raise as an employee there, and I’ve had no raises.”

In negotiations, Block said, three demands have emerged as major sticking points:

  • No pay caps for senior nurses. “They are our most valuable nurses,” Block said. “They’re the ones that train us, that pass that knowledge base onto the next generation to make sure that all of them will have good care when they are old and being cared for by us.
    “Right now, they’re trying to cap their pay at their 25th year and never give them another raise, never a cost-of-living adjustment. If you show loyalty to that hospital, if you start working there at 21 years of age, when you hit 47, you might have 15 years or 20 years left in your career and you’d never get another raise. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
  • Wages. “Right now the hospital is proposing something in the neighborhood of 10 percent over the life of our contract,” Brock said. “Their language is up to 10 percent for the majority of nurses. Which means that 51 percent may get some raise not to exceed 10 percent. Our last contract we got around 20 percent. We are certainly more valuable in a post-Covid world than we were in a pre-Covid world, so it’s absurd to think that we would deserve half the raise we did last time, especially in the environment of inflation that we’ve had that’s put so many of us in this position of needing to pick up extra shifts every pay period in order to afford our lives.”
  • Retroactive pay. RNs say the hospital has intentionally dragged out contract negotiations in an effort to prompt a union decertification vote among the nurses.

“Our contract negotiations have been drug out,” Block said. “All this time that we should have had raises and we should have been earning that level of pay, they were delaying.”

Over the course of a three-year contract, with the first year tied up in negotiations, nurses would only get two-thirds of any agreed to wage increase over the life of the contract without retroactive raises, Block said.  “We don’t want to reward that behavior.”

For more information on the nurses’ fight and how you can help, contact Barrios at 312-491-4911 or 773-406-6463 or email

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