Ascension Seton Nurses Confront Managers Who Refuse to Meet With Them

Unionized nurses gather outside of a hotel where Ascension managers met Thursday morning (Photo by Lina Fisher)

Two months after their historic strike, nurses at Ascension Seton confronted management today in a plea for action to address the hospital’s ongoing staffing crisis.

After a press conference outside the Downtown Westin Hotel this morning, nurses marched into a closed conference room where they spoke face-to-face with two hospital managers who had refused to meet with them for weeks.

Throughout bargaining for a contract, Ascension’s lawyers have been communicating with nurses, and hospital managers have declined to answer nurses’ repeated requests for their attendance to the bargaining meetings. Since the strike, nurses say continued understaffing has resulted in post-surgery patients being held in recovery rooms too long before release, increasing their bills unnecessarily. Furthermore, rather than commit to safe staffing levels, management has instituted a new policy that leaves bedridden patients in the hallway while their rooms are being cleaned.

“The issues that we are dealing with on a day to day basis impact our working conditions, the safety of our patients, and our patients’ overall experience,” Matthew Clark, an ICU nurse, told the Chronicle. “When we have managers and administrators who rarely even show their face on the unit, their only concept of what’s going on is from looking at spreadsheets and reports. And for them to try to hide behind locked doors and think that they can escape the nurses. … It’s frustrating.”

In the conference room, Monica Gonzalez, an ICU nurse in the medical surge unit, addressed the two managers, Dan Kewley, director of cardiovascular intensive care services, and Julie Zessin, director of acute care: “In the last month, we have lost at least seven nurses with multiple planning on following suit.” Clark handed them copies of a petition with nurses’ demands, supported by a stack of 12 ADOs – Assignment Despite Objection forms, which nurses fill out when they are required to work under conditions they deem unsafe. Those ADOs represented 12 unsafe shifts over an 18-day span. He then thanked management and said “we look forward to a swift response.” No one in the room replied.

Management has displayed an unwillingness to work with nurses before, choosing to lock them out for an additional four days after their planned one-day strike in June. “Persistent gaslighting from many of our managers and administrators has been frustrating to say the least,” said Clark. “So being able to deliver this petition to their face, and let them know that we are serious about wanting solutions to these issues, will hopefully be enough to get the meeting.”

Per the Chronicle’s request for comment Thursday, it seems management did not take kindly to that action, canceling the planned bargaining meeting for the day and sending this statement:

“Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin respects our associates’ right to organize themselves through union representation. We have committed to negotiating with the union in good faith with mutual respect and a shared goal of reaching a fair deal. We have held up our end of that commitment, but, as demonstrated by the behavior of the National Nurses United (NNU) bargaining team today, unfortunately they have not. The actions taken by NNU today were unprofessional, disrespectful and in blatant violation of the decorum by which negotiations are managed. Given these antics, and with respect to the well-being of our bargaining team, we have canceled the bargaining session for today. It is unfortunate that NNU chooses to conduct themselves in this manner and continues to focus on publicity stunts as opposed to what is important – reaching agreement at the bargaining table and doing what is right for our nurses, patients, hospital and community. Unfortunately, such antics only slow the process.”

Ascension did not answer a question from the Chronicle asking why Ascension managers have chosen not to attend bargaining sessions.

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