Registered nurses at Community First issue 10-day notice to strike
RNs charge management with unfair labor practices and cite patient safety concerns
Registered nurses at Community First Medical Center in Chicago have issued a 10-day strike notice to hospital management announcing they will hold a one-day strike on July 26, 2021, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). The nurses have filed unfair labor practice charges against the hospital charging that management has failed to engage in good faith bargaining with the union.
“Nurses at Community First have provided care to patients under avoidably difficult conditions throughout the pandemic, because the hospital failed to address staffing, equipment, and supply issues,” said Kathy Haff, an emergency room registered nurse at Community First Medical Center. “Now we see the hospital is failing us and the public at the bargaining table and is bargaining in bad faith. We have asked the hospital to supply us with information on their staffing schedules, but they have refused. We have seen the hospital renege on previously agreed upon proposals and we have had hospital negotiators abruptly end negotiations early without cause. We do not want to strike but feel the hospital management has given us no choice. We must bargain to improve conditions at our hospital so we can provide the best care for our patients.”
Three nurses died from Covid-19 and at least 60 other nurses at Community First Medical Center have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Nurses say the deaths and illnesses are linked to the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, failure to follow OSHA mandated rules, inadequate supplies, and inadequate staffing, all which are chronic problems which persist at the hospital.
The strike comes after nurses initiated an OSHA investigation in April for what they believe are numerous safety and employment violations at Community First Medical Center. Nurses have also called on the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Labor, and the Illinois Attorney General’s office to launch investigations.
Here are examples of these concerns:
Broken door in negative pressure room: Negative pressure rooms are used to isolate patients with infectious disease such as Covid-19 by using a pressure differential to keep air in the patient room from escaping into common areas. When a door can’t be closed in a negative pressure room, contaminated air can travel to other areas and expose patients and staff to infectious agents such as Covid-19 or tuberculosis.
Failure to maintain required temperature in cardiac catheterization lab. According to Illinois law, hospitals must maintain their HVAC systems in working order at all times. Specific to cardiac catheterization labs, the rooms must be kept between 68 and 75 degrees in order to ensure the equipment works properly. Due to a broken HVAC system, temperatures in the catheterization lab have been documented as high as 80 degrees and at least twice, high temperatures have led to equipment failure. Nurses note that equipment failure during a cardiac procedure can lead to negative outcomes and possibly death.
Continued failure to fit test nurses for N95 respirators despite documented 2020 OSHA citation and fine. NNOC/NNU initiated the 2020 OSHA investigation after three Community First Medical Center nurses died of Covid-19: Nancy Veto, RN, died in May; Anjanette Miller, RN, a nursing supervisor, died in April; and Dione Malana, RN, died in July. In December 2020, OSHA found that hospital administration had not taken appropriate steps to fit test the nursing staff for N95 respirators, and the hospital had failed to develop and implement a written respirator protection program. The hospital was fined $13,000. Hospital administration has, as of this date, still not fit tested nurses for the respirators they are providing.
Lack of personal protective equipment and faulty N95s: Hospital administration is supplying nurses with N95s that are stored in brown paper bags, not in their original manufacturer’s packaging, making it impossible to know if the respirators are expired. The straps on these N95s often break, exposing patients and nurses to possible infectious agents. Nurses are being forced to reuse gowns that are intended for single use and they do not have access to small and extra small gloves. Nurses are being asked to use gloves that do not fit and that present an infection control hazard to nurses and patients.
Failure to pay employee health insurance premiums which resulted in the loss of health care, disability, and other benefits: The failure of the hospital to pay for health insurance premiums in 2019 despite deducting the employee share from their paychecks, was only discovered when employees tried to access their health care benefits to obtain medications. Multiple employees ended up with significant debt due to the loss of health insurance. This is being reported to the state attorney general’s office.
Failure to pay overtime: Community First Medical Center routinely failed to correctly calculate overtime between May 2020 and April 2021, which led to certain employees losing as much as $200 dollars per paycheck.
Community First Medical Center is a privately owned hospital that was purchased in 2015 by Ed Green and another investor. The nurses at the hospital voted to join NNOC/NNU in 2019. Last year, eight emergency room physicians quit the hospital, citing patient safety concerns.
National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with more than 175,000 members nationwide. NNU plays a leadership role in safeguarding the health and safety of RNs and their patients and has won landmark legislation in the areas of staffing, safe patient handling, infectious disease, and workplace violence prevention.