Nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph overwhelmingly vote to strike
St. Joseph nurses voted 90% yes to authorize a strike, joining nurses at nearby St. Francis in what could be the first nurses strikes in Kansas history.
Nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital in Wichita, Kan., have authorized a strike in a vote held this week, National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) announced today. Nurses at the hospital, which is owned by Ascension, voted 90% yes to the strike. They say they’ve had enough of the company’s practices putting profits before patients.
St. Joseph is the second Ascension-owned Wichita hospital where nurses have recently authorized a strike, as RNs at nearby Ascension Via Christi St. Francis also voted 93% yes to authorize a strike at the end of May. Nurses at both facilities have begun bargaining their first union contract with Ascension after voting to join NNU within the last year. St. Joseph is also the third Ascension-owned facility where nurses have voted to authorize a strike in recent weeks, joining St. Francis and Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin in Texas. Nurses will provide standard notice of a plan to strike at least ten days in advance.
“We have a staffing crisis at our hospital because management refuses to get serious about nurse recruitment and retention,” said Marvin Ruckle, RN in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “We know a strong union contract is the best way to address this, and we’re prepared to show management that we’ll fight for our patients at the table and on the strike line.”
Nurses say they believe a strong contract is the way to make progress on all the issues they fear are impacting patient care, including workplace violence, staffing, and nurse recruitment and retention. A strong union contract could codify violence prevention plans, mandate safe staffing levels, and generally improve the poor conditions that management has created, which are driving nurses away from the hospitals.
“As nurses, we’re here to take care of our patients,” said Whitney Steinike, RN in the adolescent psychiatric unit. “When management puts roadblocks between us and patient care, we’re going to rally together to knock them down. If that means striking to show them we’re serious, now we know where our membership stands with this vote.”
In March 2023, Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph nurses voted to join NNOC/NNU. St. Joseph’s is the second Ascension-owned Wichita facility where nurses elected to join the union, following Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. Nurses at both facilities recently held a rally calling on Ascension management to bargaining with both facilities on a joint contract, as the hospitals are mere miles apart and serve overlapping patient populations. Between St. Joseph and St. Francis, NNOC/NNU represents a total of nearly 1,000 Wichita-area nurses, with more than 650 at St. Francis and 300 at St. Joseph.
Nationwide, three Ascension-owned facilities have joined NNOC/NNU in less than a year. Over 900 nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin in Texas won a landslide union election to join in September 2022 and began bargaining in November. The Austin nurses also recently voted to authorize a strike with 98% yes.
Ascension is one of the largest not-for-profit and Catholic hospital chains in the nation and was the central focus of the 2022 New York Times exposé, “How a Sprawling Hospital Chain Ignited Its Own Staffing Crisis.”
National Nurses Organizing Committee is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with nearly 225,000 members nationwide. NNU affiliates also include California Nurses Association, DC Nurses Association, Michigan Nurses Association, Minnesota Nurses Association, and New York State Nurses Association.