St. Louis RNs hold historic first strike for patient safety

Submitted by ADonahue on
Nurses picketing outside of Saint Louis University Hospital

By Chuleenan Svetvilas

National Nurse magazine - Oct | Nov | Dec 2023 Issue

Registered nurses at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital (SLUH) in St. Louis, Mo., held a one-day strike on September 26 to protest the administration’s refusal to address RNs’ deep concerns about patient care, safe staffing, and workplace violence.
The strike follows the nurses’ 94 percent vote in early September in favor of authorizing the bargaining team to call a strike.

SLUH nurses have been in negotiations since May 2023 for a new contract with little to no movement on key issues. Their contract expired on June 15, 2023. The RNs held an informational picket about the issues on July 19. The nurses urge management to invest in nursing staff and agree to a contract that addresses nurse retention and workplace violence prevention.

The nurses have presented several proposals and attempted to compromise, but SSM continues to refuse to address the RNs’ concerns about recruitment and retention as well as workplace violence prevention.

“We are striking because SSM Health must do more to recruit and retain nurses,” said Maddi O’Leary, RN in the bone marrow transplant clinic at SLU Hospital. “SSM Health has hired more than 1,600 nurses since 2020, but most of those nurses have left. Hundreds of RN positions — more than 30 percent of all nursing positions at SLU Hospital — have not been filled since the spring of 2022.”

“We nurses are invested in our community, and we want to give our patients the best care,” said Laura Decker, RN in the medical ICU. “We risked our lives during the pandemic to care for our patients. All we are asking is that SSM Health invests in nurses so we can continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability.”

“The last thing we want to do is strike, but we have no choice, especially when workplace violence is happening every day,” said Nancy Steele, RN on the transplant floor. “We should not come to work with the expectation that we will be punched, kicked, or threatened with violence from patients or visitors. SSM Health must do more to make the workplace safer for nurses and patients.”

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing shows that in Missouri and across the country, there is no nurse “shortage.” In fact, in Missouri, there are more than 38,000 RNs with active licenses who are not working as nurses in the state. Nationwide, there are more than a million registered nurses with active licenses who are choosing not to work as nurses.

National Nurses Organizing Committee has represented nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital since 2012. As of press time, SLUH nurses voted in December to authorize the bargaining team to call a second strike. 

 Chuleenan Svetvilas is a communications specialist at National Nurses United.