Registered nurses and graduate student workers at the University of Chicago will hold an early morning press conference on Monday, Dec. 4, to demand that the university respect its workers and settle their contracts quickly without unnecessary delays and deliberate stalling.
RNs with National Nurses United and graduate students with Graduate Students United (UE Local 1103) are calling on the university to respect their need for appropriate staffing and training, resources, as well as workplace violence prevention plans in order to provide the highest quality of patient care and highest educational standards.
“As nurses at the bedside each day, we see how patient care is suffering, and we are losing nurses because of chronic and persistent lack of staffing,” said Lea Sargent King, a registered nurse. “These persistent staffing problems are especially acute on units where we serve vulnerable Medicaid and Medicare populations. We need the university to respect the expertise of the nurses who are providing the care and listen to what we need.”
“Let’s be very clear, the University has been deliberately stalling since we won a union election in October 2017,” said Elaine Colligan, a graduate student worker. “The administration seems committed to one playbook: delay, delay, delay. Our members are long overdue for a living wage, a workplace free from harassment and discrimination, and health care benefits including dental and vision coverage. Graduate students are the essential building blocks of a premier research institution. When we are able to care for ourselves without working other jobs and when we are able to teach and research without being harassed, we will be able to ensure that the University of Chicago can fulfill its educational mission.”
The press conference comes as nurses and graduate students are resuming contract negotiations with the University of Chicago.
Among other issues, nurses are demanding the university commit to supporting nurses who work with victims of sexual assault and by working to create workplace violence prevention plans for each unit of the medical center.
“Our emergency department nurses are the frontline for our community at the only trauma hospital on Chicago’s Southside, and we often face workplace violence,” said Scott Mechanic, a registered nurse. “We are seeking meaningful improvements to workplace violence prevention plans for ourselves, our patients, and family members. We also demand support and training for nurses who provide sexual assault survivors with the appropriate care during a time of great vulnerability and need. It is critical that we nurses are supported as we receive Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner training, so our patients may hopefully get the justice they deserve.”
“In light of what we have seen throughout the pandemic, we are demanding more accountability on staffing and infectious disease policies,” said Brigitt Manson, a registered nurse in the pediatric unit. “We are also calling on the administration to address the need for fair market compensation, so we can recruit and retain experienced nurses. We know experienced staff nurses are best able to provide the highest quality of care to our patients.”
Graduate student workers are also demanding that the university address the economic needs of those who provide vital educational services.
“We know of far too many of our graduate students who are forced to seek out food stamps or struggle to pay their rent,” said Micah Gay, a graduate student worker. “Some of our international members are forced to decide between putting food on the table or risking their immigration status by working more than is allowed with their visas. Far too many of our members report that they routinely forgo dental and vision care because it is prohibitively expensive. No one should be forced into such precarious positions. The university has a moral responsibility to ensure that its instructors and researchers are able to care for themselves by paying graduate workers a living and competitive wage that is tied to inflation and by providing dental and vision care.”
The graduate students are also demanding accountability and transparency in a grievance procedure that would allow a worker to seek recourse if they are harassed or experience discrimination in the workplace. Currently, graduate students’ concerns are often buried, handled in an obscure and/or arbitrary manner, or left unanswered.
“We are very proud to be graduate students at the University of Chicago, and our pride must not be tarnished by those in positions of authority who abuse their power,” said Soham Sinha, a graduate student worker. “As workers, we deserve the right to have our grievances taken seriously and handled in an accountable, transparent, and respectful manner. Our position is clear, we need unambiguous contract language that will create a culture shift on this campus and erode the conditions that enable discrimination to occur in the first place. That is the only way to make our workplace safer.”
Nurses and graduate students are proud to stand together as union siblings as they seek to make the University of Chicago a place where the health and well-being of students, patients, and workers is the aim of all.
“Nurses know the importance of union solidarity and are proud to stand together with the graduate students as we both negotiate our contracts,” said Johnny Webb, a registered nurse. “We are demanding that the university respect our knowledge and expertise as the union workers who are providing critical care and education to our patients and our students.”
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.
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