Nearly 2,000 nurses with National Nurses United at three Ascension healthcare facilities, including Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin in Texas and Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph in Wichita, Kansas, say they aren’t allowed to return to work after carrying out a one-day strike on June 27, the largest nurses strike in both states. They were turned away by hospital security on Wednesday when they showed up for their scheduled shifts and were told the lockout will last three days.
According to KUT in Austin, a group of nurses approached the south entrance of Ascension Seton Medical Center only to find the doors blocked by a row of folding tables. The security guards met them out front and told them, “As of right now, you’re not authorized to work, so y’all are going to have to leave.”
Kristine Kittelson, a NICU nurse who was at the front of the group, said the guards checked their badges individually to see if they were the nurses who went on strike.
“How do you know? Is it because we’re here together?” Kittelson said. “How do you differentiate between whether we were here or not yesterday?”
The group of nurses then turned back the way they came and shouted, “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
In response, the Austin-based Ascension facility released a statement saying it was forced to hire temporary nurses during the one-day strike and is contractually obligated to provide them with at least four days of work.
“Ascension Seton would prefer not to have to utilize these extended contracted services, particularly given the current challenges the healthcare industry, including our ministry, is facing, but we must make every provision for ensuring the health and safety of our patients, families, providers and associates,” the hospital said in the statement.
Nurses with NNU accused Ascension management of using the lockout as a union busting tactic.
“Management wants to hide behind technicalities and pretend they have to do this,” Jessica Gripentrog, an RN in the internal float pool at Ascension Seton, said on Wednesday. “But they can welcome us back to work today if they want to, just like they can settle a strong contract with us today if they want to. Nurses won’t be intimidated by petty antics when we’re in a fight for the future of our hospitals and the health of our patients and communities.”
“We’re ready to go back to work, just like we’re ready to settle a contract that gives us what we need to take care of our patients,” added Marvin Ruckle, a NICU unit RN at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph. “Management’s efforts to bust our union won’t work. We unionized to fight for our patients, and these attempts to retaliate against nurses aren’t going to stop us.”
The nurses at all three Ascension facilities say they are now planning to return to work on Saturday, July 1 at the end of the lockout.
“We’d love to get back to work today for our patients, if only management was as serious about patient care as we are,” said Shelly Rader, an emergency department RN at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. “But we’ll be ready on Saturday, and we’ll be celebrating the power we showed them we have with these strikes.”
“It’s safer for us to be in there,” Kittelson told KUT. “We know our facility, we know our hospital, we know our orders. This is the safe option, and they are denying us access.”
Image courtesy of National Nurses United.