Wichita nurses win first union contract

Submitted by ADonahue on
Group of seven nurses inside hospital smiling and wearing red

Ascension RNs held two strikes before claiming victory

By Lucy Diavolo

National Nurse magazine - April | May | June 2024 Issue

Registered nurses represented by National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) at two Ascension-owned hospitals in Wichita, Kan., voted overwhelmingly in April in favor of ratifying their first union contracts, successfully winning protections for patient care. At Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, nurses voted 96 percent yes in favor of ratifying their new contract. At Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, nurses voted 100 percent yes in favor of ratification.

The new two-year agreements come after nurses had pledged a third strike, if necessary. Nurses from Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospitals have organized, struck, and bargained as a united front of Wichita nurses fighting for patient safety and better working conditions at their hospitals. The new pacts cover the period from April 2024 to 2026.

“This is a historic day for our union, our patients, our hospitals, and the entire city of Wichita,” said Shelly Rader, RN in the emergency department at St. Francis. “We’ve shown Ascension that nurses won’t back down when it comes to fighting for better patient care and better working conditions. We organized to fight for and win a strong contract, and we’re very excited to announce we’ve done just that now that nurses have approved this contract.”

“Ascension tried to make this process as difficult as possible for us, but we showed them nothing can stop nurses,” said Marvin Runkle, RN in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Joseph. “We went on strike twice and were ready to strike a third time if it was necessary. Fortunately, management finally came to their senses and gave us the strong contract we need.”

Highlights of the contract include:

  • Safe Staffing: The hospitals will utilize staffing grids with nurse-to-patient ratios for every unit, enforceable through the nurse-led Professional Practice Committee, through nurse-filed Assignment Despite Objection (ADO) forms, and through collective action

  • Safety for patients and nurses: Language setting new standards on health, safety, infectious disease protections, and workplace violence prevention

  • Compensation and a transparent wage scale based on years of experience: An average of over 14 percent in increases, with some nurses receiving well over 50 percent, over the life of the contract.

NNOC represents nearly 1,000 nurses combined at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, where RNs unionized in November 2022, and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, where RNs unionized in March 2023.

Nurses at both hospitals struck twice in 2023 alongside nurses from Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin in Texas — first in June and again in December. The Austin nurses ratified their first contract in March.

Lucy Diavolo is a communications specialist at National Nurses United.