Ascension Stops Nurses From Returning to Work After Strike

Negotiations over understaffing crisis stalled, nurses say

Nurses strike, saying they have too many patients to care for per nurse (Photo by John Anderson)

This morning, nurses tried to return to work at Seton on 38th after their planned one-day strike yesterday, but their employer, Ascension, wouldn’t let them, citing “contractual require[ments]” to the temp agency it chose to cover the strike.

“Management wants to hide behind technicalities and pretend they have to do this,” said an internal float pool nurse Jessica Gripentrog in a press release from National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. “But they can welcome us back to work today if they want to, just like they can settle a strong contract with us today if they want to.”

Nurses told the Chronicle last week that the planned lockout – announced shortly after the strike was – could have potentially dangerous effects on patients, as temp nurses may not be familiar with the hospital and may receive insufficient training. That’s what nurses were attempting to avoid when they delivered their strike notice 10 days before: “The whole point of this strike notice was to ensure that they have ample time to either settle the contract with us, or to prepare adequately for our actions and make sure the patients are safely taken care of,” said Matthew Clark, an ICU nurse for the last eight years at Seton. “Instead, they chose to try to lock us out to intimidate us.” Further, Ascension may be paying dearly for that decision – temp nurses are paid much more than staff nurses to cover strikes on short notice.

Ascension is partially funded by Central Health, Travis County’s health care district, and they’re not happy with the hospital giant either: In a statement to the Chronicle Central Health stressed that they are “not involved in Ascension’s labor dispute with its nurses” and said “based on our experience, frontline staff – including nurses – have always demonstrated a commitment to providing the best possible care to our patients – Travis County residents with low income. Everything we are hearing aligns with our concerns about Ascension being more concerned about sending profits to its headquarters in St. Louis instead of delivering proper patient care in Travis County.”

Nurses chose to initiate what NNU says is the largest nurses’ strike in Texas history over stalled contract negotiations and Ascension’s persistent unwillingness to safely staff the hospital, which Clark said makes it “feel like when we come into work, we’re essentially having to work with one hand tied behind our back.” He said the lockout “has galvanized the nurses even more. It’s only made us strengthen our resolve.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar – who joined nurses on the picket line yesterday along with the Texas AFL-CIO, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, and state Rep. Gina Hinojosa – said he’s optimistic about the outcome of the strike: “The Austin community is so behind them, no matter what the barriers are. … Here on the picket line, people won’t stop honking because people in Austin know that our nurses are on our side. And the nurses are making the right ask, which is: Let’s just put our patients before profit.”

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