2,000 Ascension Nurses Strike On June 27 For Strong Contracts.
Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas at three Ascension hospitals are moving forward with historic one-day strikes to protest management’s resistance to bargain in good faith with RNs for union contracts that would help correct the endemic staffing crisis.
Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas at three Ascension hospitals are moving forward with historic one-day strikes on Tuesday, June 27, to protest management’s resistance to bargain in good faith with RNs for union contracts that would help correct the endemic staffing crisis, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). Driven by their concerns about patient safety, these will be the largest nurse strikes in Texas and Kansas history.
Ascension management’s punitive three-day lockout of nurses who go on strike has failed to intimidate them. Among the 2,000 registered nurses at Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital (Wichita, Kan.), Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital (Wichita, Kan.), and Ascension Seton Medical Center (Austin, Texas), there is now even greater momentum and motivation to speak out and demand management negotiate first contracts with its RNs to improve the health of their patients and communities.
“Management’s retaliatory threats are despicable, but union nurses won’t give up on our fight for our patients,” said Kris Fuentes, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin. “Ascension’s dangerous staffing practices disrupt our ability to provide quality care and put our patients at risk every day. This is a clear sign Ascension would rather use its vast resources to delay improvement than to invest in the care our patients and our communities deserve with appropriate staffing.”
- Go here for a detailed list of local actions, locations, and events, starting Monday, June 26. Live strike coverage is on NNU’s social accounts – see below for details.
The strikes come after Ascension repeatedly dismissed nurses’ solutions for patient safety during contract negotiations, including their proposals to enforce safe staffing and improve nurse recruitment and retention.
“Ascension management is short-changing its nurses and its patients,” Nichlous Whitehead, an RN in the surgery unit at St. Francis Hospital, said of the hospital chain, which does not pay federal taxes because of its nonprofit status. “While Ascension claims to provide ‘spiritually-centered holistic care,’ nurses’ experiences reflect the reality of Ascension’s hypocrisy. Union nurses are striking to enforce, through safe staffing protections in our contracts, Ascension’s own mission to ‘sustain and improve the health of individuals and communities.’”
In the past year, Ascension nurses have made history, creating some of the largest private-sector nurse unions in states with laws hostile to worker organizing. Driving the surge of unionization at Ascension is the blatant hypocrisy of the nonprofit, Catholic hospital chain – one of the nation’s largest that has $19.5 billion in cash reserves, an investment arm that manages $41 billion, and a private equity operation worth $1 billion.
Chronic short-staffing imposed by Ascension hospital management – a practice that began well before the Covid-19 pandemic to boost profits and executive compensation – makes it challenging for nurses to provide the highest quality of care to their patients because it drastically limits how much time a nurse can spend on each patient. Short-staffing also creates a revolving door of nursing staff, who suffer moral injury and distress because they can’t provide the care they know results in the best patient outcomes.
“Nurses are patient advocates at the bedside and, when we need to be, on the strike line,” said Carol Samsel, an RN in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph Hospital. “Union nurses are ready to stand united against these conditions, which are driving away both veteran nurses, whom we need to ensure the highest standards of care, and new graduates, who are necessary for the sustainability of our profession.”
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing shows that in Texas, Kansas, and across the country, there is no nurse “shortage.” In fact, in Texas, there are nearly 128,000 registered nurses with active licenses who are choosing not to work at the bedside, while in Kansas – a much smaller state by population – that number is almost 20,000. Nationwide, there are more than a million registered nurses with active licenses who are choosing not to work at the bedside because of the hospital industry’s unsafe working conditions. More data and information debunking the nurse “shortage” myth can be found here.
Background On Ascension Profiteering
The conditions driving Austin and Wichita nurses to take unprecedented collective action at their hospitals are part of a broader pattern of Ascension negligence and greed.
Not only are these actions in direct contradiction to the directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for Catholic health care organizations, they have garnered the scrutiny of local and national news media and state and federal regulators, including:
- A November 2021 STAT News investigation described Ascension as a hospital system “moonlighting as a private equity firm,” in an “unprecedented and strikingly unusual” move for a nonprofit chain.
- A December 2022 New York Times investigation into Ascension’s staffing conditions found the hospital “spent years reducing its staffing levels in an effort to improve profitability.”
- A December 2022 Wall Street Journal investigation into Ascension’s deals found it has closed hospitals serving low-income neighborhoods and communities that have private insurance coverage below area median levels – instead choosing to open facilities in wealthier neighborhoods.
- Two separate reports in January 2023 from Milwaukee, Wis., showed “disruptions to patient care, long wait times in the emergency department, delayed surgeries and staff concerns about patient safety” at Ascension facilities.
- A January 2023 lawsuit filed by Travis County, Texas, officials for a breach of contract by Ascension-owned Dell Seton Medical Center, arguing Ascension had not complied with “its commitments to…the low-income Travis County residents who depend on Central Health for healthcare services.”
- A February 2023 letter to CEO Joseph Impicciche by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin called into question Ascension’s nonprofit status and mission-driven values.
A snapshot of Ascension’s financials show that, despite Ascension’s stated benevolent mission, it acts like a for-profit corporation putting dollars over patient care:
- $19.5 billion: cash reserved by Ascension as of June 2022
- $5.7 billion: Ascension’s net income in 2021
- $13 million: Ascension CEO’s compensation package in 2021
- $41 billion: managed by Ascension’s investment arm as of 2021
- $1 billion: value of Ascension’s private equity operation
- 1.9: percent of operating expenses that go to charity care, far below the 2.6 percent that is the national average
Ascension is the second-largest Catholic nonprofit health system in the country. In fiscal year 2021, Ascension reported a net income of more than $6.4 billion, and the system’s CEO took home a compensation package worth more than $13 million.
Background On NNOC/NNU At Ascension
Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin:
- 900 nurses represented
- Sept. 21, 2022 – formed the largest private-sector nurse union in Texas by voting to join NNOC/NNU
- Nov. 17, 2022 – held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
- April 6, 2023 – held an informational picket to call attention to retention crisis
- June 1, 2023 – voted to authorize strike by 98 percent
Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita:
- 650 nurses represented
- Nov. 10, 2022 – formed the first private-sector union in Wichita in the city’s largest hospital by voting to join NNOC/NNU
- Feb. 13, 2023 – held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
- May 31, 2023 – voted to authorize strike by 93 percent
Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital in Wichita:
- 300 nurses represented
- March 9, 2023 – voted to join NNOC/NNU, making them the second Ascension-owned hospital in Wichita to create a nurses union
- May 22, 2023 – held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
- June 13, 2023 – voted to authorize strike by 90 percent
On June 15, 2023, at Ascension’s headquarters in St. Louis, RNs from all three hospitals provided more than 10 days of advance notice to allow for alternative plans to be made for patient care.