Health and Fitness

After Long Fight, Cook County RNs Win New Tentative Pact with Staffing, Economic Improvements

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–June 26, 2015.  More than 1,200 registered nurses who work at Cook County hospitals and clinics have, after many months of effort, won a tentative new collective bargaining agreement with county officials that they say addresses many patient care concerns and provides needed economic improvements.

RNs must still ratify the proposed pact in membership meetings scheduled July 1 and 2. National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, represents the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) RNs.

“Our agreement moves us forward significantly, with strong new language regarding infectious diseases that will allow us to address our concerns both as new outbreaks occur and on an ongoing basis,” said Rochelle Lowe, neonatal intensive care RN at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

Cook County RNs have been working without a contract for several years, during which time they have engaged in numerous actions to pressure the county to properly respect the nurses. Actions have included multiple rallies and pickets, testimony by hundreds of RNs before the city council and other public agencies, participation in numerous local and state actions, and a nearly unanimous vote to strike, if necessary.

The RNs’ effort has paid off with an agreement they say addresses key patient care concerns including staffing language that requires all county facilities to adhere to their own staffing plans, a step needed to help fill staffing shortages that have long plagued the system. The contract will also provide RNs additional time to provide the full scope of nursing care patients need.

For the first time, the RNs will have contract language to require safe patient handling procedures, including lift teams or other staff trained in lifting techniques, to reduce the danger of nurse injuries, a national plague documented in a recent series on National Public Radio, as well as cutting the risk of patient falls and accidents.

The agreement also steps up protections to limit the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola and other viruses, by directing the county to provide the proper personal protective equipment and optimal interactive training, and the right of RNs to refuse to care for patients if the proper protective equipment is not provided.

Other important patient care gains include expanded limits on mandatory overtime and mandatory shift rotation, in which nurses can be required to work alternating day and night shifts. Both areas are critical to reducing nurse fatigue that can lead to medical errors as well as putting RNs at risk. Nurses also won an improved, expedited arbitration process for resolving disputes.

On economic matters, all Cook County RNs will receive a 10.75 percent pay increase over the life of the agreement, including a retroactive pay increase, along with other economic gains.

The RNs also succeeded in persuading county officials to withdraw demands for cuts in nurses pay, seniority rights, scheduling and other standards and imposition of a discriminatory “wellness” program that would penalize RNs with higher health costs, including for factors such as chronic and genetic health problems.