October 7th, 2019 2:06 PM
POISED FOR ACTION: Sinai Health System service employees recently authorized their union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, to call a strike if they can't negotiate higher pay and better staffing with their employer. | SEIU Healthcare Illinois
Roughly 400 nursing assistants, patient care technicians, dietary workers, therapists, drivers who transport patients and food service workers, among other service workers employed by Sinai Health System and represented by Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois are prepared to go on strike if they can't reach an agreement with the hospital system.
Around 97 percent of the workers — who represent a significant portion of service employees at Mt. Sinai Hospital, 1500 S. Fairfield Ave, and Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, 1401 S. California Ave. — voted to authorize the union to call a strike, SEIU officials said Oct. 2. The employees' contract expired in June.
With the strike authorization set, the union will now be able to give a strike notice to Sinai Health System, which owns both hospitals. Under the federal law, the union must notify the employer of a strike at least 10 days ahead of time. SEIU Healthcare Illinois spokesperson James Muhammad said that the union still hopes to avoid a strike, so hasn't set a date for doing so.
Muhammad said that the employees want higher wages and better staffing levels. He said that the current staffing levels are low enough to pose a safety risk for patients, and many employees earn so little they can't even afford the insurance plan provided by the health system. The union also wants Sinai Health System to invest more in the communities it serves.
Following the vote, Sinai Health System issued a statement expressing hope that a strike could be averted through negotiations.
"Sinai and the union have been in negotiations for approximately four months and have had multiple bargaining sessions, with progression toward signed agreements between the hospitals and the union," Sinai Health stated. "We remain confident we will reach resolution on a final contract in the near future. As always, Sinai Health System is committed to our mission and will remain prepared through contingency plans to provide patients and the community high-quality care for them and their loved ones."
As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, registered nurses, technicians and registry workers are notably among those represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois. Muhammad said that, if the strike happens, the non-union employees plan to join the picket lines in solidarity with their unionized colleagues.
The nurses have been trying to get union representation through SEIU Healthcare Illinois for the past two decades. According to the National Labor Relations Board, employees can form a union one of two ways: by a majority of employees who would be included in the union voting to join or by the employer choosing to recognize the union without a vote taking place.
The nurses tried the former option in 2006 and 2007, and both votes failed. National Labor Relations Board records show that for the 2007 ballot, among the 508 eligible employees, 152 voted for unionization while 293 voted against it.
Muhammad said he didn't know anything about either vote, so he couldn't comment on them. But he said that, generally speaking, SEIU Healthcare Illinois pushed for voluntary recognition because they believed that, otherwise, Sinai Health System would try to intimidate employees into voting against.
"The hospital wants to be able to hold the nurses hostage, to be able to have workers where they can threaten them, give them anti-union [propaganda]," Muhammad said. "The motive for the hospital is to be able to threaten workers and make it seem like they would be fired if they want [to join] the union."
Sinai Health System spokesperson Dan Regan previously indicated via email that his employer preferred the vote by a secret ballot because it wanted to respect the wishes of the majority of nurses it employs.
Clarise Evans, a certified nursing assistant at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, stated that she has experienced the pitfalls of understaffing and the struggle to pay for her insurance first-hand.
"I love my patients and I do my best," she explained in the SEIU statement. "But I can't begin to tell you how stressful it is to do your best when you're doing the job of multiple people. You would think a hospital worker would be able to access healthcare without skipping paying other bills or putting groceries on the table. That's why I voted yes."
Regan said that, as of Oct. 4, Sinai Health System had nothing further to add beyond the statement the hospital put out after the strike authorization.
Muhammad said the strike is a last resort for the workers.
"We'll continue the bargaining process," he said. "We'll continue to ask Mt. Sinai to come to the table and bargain fairly and address the legitimate concerns."
Thanks for turning to Austin Weekly News and AustinWeeklyNews.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?
On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.
No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.
Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.
To view the full print edition of the Austin Weekly News 2019 Answer Book, please click here.
Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Austin and Garfield Park.
How to have your husband back home with your kids again ...
By Anthony An Vic Victoria
Posted: May 31st, 2020 8:53 PM
On: The problem with praise dancing
Thank you Mayor for caring about those young 'uns (young...
By Coraine Blue
Posted: May 29th, 2020 9:15 AM
On: 'I'm not going to apologize...
Hey there not sure if you remember me. I use to hang out with...
By Traci Wells
Posted: May 23rd, 2020 8:49 PM
On: Africa Brown: Oscar Brown Jr.'s...
Ok we paid for not being prepared for Covid - 19 but everyone...
By Matt Leuck
Posted: May 19th, 2020 3:08 PM
On: County commissioner calls for...
What a miracle to have my ex back and i need to share this great...
By Cus Dolly
Posted: May 14th, 2020 9:35 PM
On: Austin teacher chosen for national...
Went to school at OOJH in the late 70s. I remember him playing...
By Antonio Yarzagaray
Posted: May 2nd, 2020 1:16 PM
On: Vince Johnson masters computers and...
View All Comments