St. Louis Nurses Set to Strike – Will ‘Big Healthcare’ Get the Message?

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As Joe Biden’s economy ravages the pocketbooks of Americans, the guy who touts himself as the best friend of unions has plenty of union employees unhappy and walking off the job these days. The nation’s auto workers are currently expanding their work stoppage, and now, another vitally important group has decided they have had enough. Nurses at St. Louis University Hospital in St. Louis announced this week that on Monday they will strike for 24 hours. Nurses at one of the city’s largest healthcare systems are demanding an end to what they say are potentially unsafe working conditions for both themselves and their patients.


The process leading up to nurses walking off the job began in July when they presented their concerns to the general public with an informational picket. SLU nurses claim that management is not responding to many of their concerns including “chronic” short-staffing, and workplace violence, an issue that is getting an increasing amount of attention. they have also asked for more security, and better record-keeping of violent incidents when they occur. The strike is only scheduled to last 24 hours, but as many as 500 nurses could take part. Jay Weaver is a nurse in the post-anesthesia care unit. He explained that he and many of his colleagues don’t know any other way to get the attention of management saying,

“For us nurses, a strike is a last resort, but we are at the point where more patients will be harmed if we don’t strike. Management must do more to retain and recruit nurses.”


The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the nation’s healthcare system. Spring of 2022 saw the highest vacancy rate for registered nurse positions, reaching 30 percent. That is almost twice the statewide vacancy rate for 2022 of around 17 percent. In 2021, the statewide vacancy rate reached 20 percent. St. Louis and Missouri nurses are joining several nurses unions around the country. In June, 1,700 nurses walked the picket line for a day in Austin, Texas at Ascension Seton Medical Center in the largest nurses strike in Texas history. They voiced a common concern, nurses being responsible for too many patients, resulting in compromised quality of care. Nurses in New Jersey have gone one step further. At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, nurses have been on strike for two months.

In addition to understaffing causing burnout and exhaustion among the nation’s nurses, workplace violence is also becoming an issue. A Premier survey from June showed that 40 percent of healthcare workers, most of them nurses, have experienced some kind of workplace violence in the last two years. Among female respondents, the type of incidents they experienced was evenly split between verbal or emotional, and physical or sexual. Male respondents said they experienced more physical than verbal or emotional violence. However, more than half of all respondents said they believed that violence in their workplaces had increased during their time of employment. 


According to a survey published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, roughly 100,000 nurses left the profession due to pandemic-related stress. Roughly 30,000 nurses were surveyed, and of those, more than a quarter said they planned on leaving the profession or retiring within the next five years. Increased workload related to COVID, and feeling emotionally drained at work were the answer many of the surveyed nurses gave. Add to that some even more concerning numbers. Nurses with less than ten years of experience said they were feeling “fatigued” and “burnt out” the most. 

As a new strain of the COVID-19 virus has been reported in at least ten states, will management at the nation’s healthcare systems address the concerns of nurses? There is not a lot of information on the new strain yet, but it might be something that health officials might want to be prepared for, just in case. A workforce of overworked burnt-out nurses could make a second round of COVID even harder to deal with.

Both sides are getting ready, as St. Louis University Hospital nurses prepare for the picket line. The Sisters of St. Mary (SSM) health system claims the union has not responded to key wage issue proposals, and the union says what management has offered them is “far behind the rising cost of living.” 


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