Cook County RNs to Picket Stroger Hospital Friday Over Short Staffing and Wage Theft

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–June 4, 2015.  Cook County Health and Hospital System (CCHHS), registered nurses, joined by community supporters, will picket John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, 1969 W. Ogden Avenue. Chicago, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, June 5, to protest growing problems with safe staffing and “wage theft,” the denial of earned pay by hospital officials.

The RNs, who are represented by National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC), an affiliate of National Nurses United, voted in late April to authorize their nurse negotiating team to call a strike, if necessary, over inadequate staffing and other pressing issues.

According to CCHHS nurses, who work at Provident Hospital, Cermak Health Services, Cook County Department of Public Health and county clinics, in addition to Stroger, there are over 250 open RN positions throughout the System—an unsafe staffing level that nurses, backed by countless studies, say puts patients’ lives at risk. At times, Cook County RNs have to contend with patient assignments that are nearly double what they consider to be safe.

A recent study by the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing showed that for each additional patient per nurse on medical-surgical units beyond five per nurse, there was a 4 percent decrease in the odds of survival.

“As nurses at the bedside, we know firsthand—just like studies have proven time and again—that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios save lives. With over 250 open RN positions throughout the Cook County System, how can they say that the focus is on caring for patients?” asks Shirley Anita Overton Evans, RN. “This hospital system is a safety net for some of the most vulnerable members of our community and society, and they deserve better than this.”

CCHHS hospitals are required by Illinois law to create and follow a staffing plan.  In a recent audit conducted by NNOC, however, hospitals in the System consistently failed to follow their own policy, understaffing in nearly every unit, on every shift during the audit period. In a two-week period, Stroger Hospital had 694 open RN shifts.

Nurses are also protesting a pattern of ‘wage theft.’  Despite the fact that Cook County enacted an ordinance implementing penalties for businesses that commit wage theft, hospital officials at the CCHHS hospitals continue to fail to meet their legal obligations to pay for overtime work and increase pay rates in accordance with the contract—and also intentionally misinform RNs about their legal right to reimbursement for use of their own personal vehicles for County business.

“Cook County’s wage theft is inexcusable, considering that the county itself refuses to do business with businesses that commit wage theft,” says Higinia “Gina” Johnson, RN.

Community supporters speaking at the informational picket will include Alderman-Elect Sue Garza and Rev. Liz Muñoz of Arise Chicago. Other community supporters will include County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, and SEIU Doctors’ Council.

“I am proud to support the Cook County Nurses in their efforts to improve patient care,” says Rev. Muñoz.

Cook County RNs have been working without a contract since December 2012.