AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin began a one-day strike Tuesday morning “to protest management’s resistance to bargain in good faith.”
The group of unionized registered nurses said this will be the largest nurse strike in Texas history. This effort is part of contract negotiations the union said will improve the health of their patients and communities.
A group of Ascension Seton nurses voted to unionize in September, joining the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. The union said it represents about 900 nurses, and 98% of those nurses voted to authorize the Tuesday strike.
The strike started at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday and will last 24 hours excluding a three-hour heat break in the afternoon.
A statement from Ascension Texas said the hospital has a plan to ensure no disruption in service.
“Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin is open and well-prepared to continue to provide patient centered, holistic care during this unfortunate strike,” the statement read in part.
The hospital group also said registered nurses who do not work June 27 cannot return to work until the morning of July 1 due to their replacement agency’s contract for replacement nurses to work a minimum of four days starting the first day of the strike.
The nurses union said the three-day lockout “has failed to intimidate them.”
“Management’s retaliatory threats are despicable, but union nurses won’t give up on our fight for our patients,” Kris Fuentes, a neonatal intensive care unit registered nurse at Ascension Seton Medical Center, said in a statement.
Michael Green, a law professor at Texas A&M University and director of their workplace law program, said there’s already a question surrounding that.
“There could be a question about that lockout: Is that a violation of unfair labor practices? So, all of this is probably new for Texas,” he said.
In January, KXAN obtained official union complaint forms that cited instances of “inadequate training, delayed response to hospital alarms, and delayed response to crying babies.”
Green and Serena Bumpus, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst to this walkout, spotlighting safety in the workplace.
Bumpus said patients have gotten sicker and the red tape has gotten stickier.
“Nurses spend anywhere from 40 to 50% of their shift, just documenting alone. And that means that they are not at the bedside, taking care of their patients and providing them the care that they deserve,” she said.
Bumpus said she doesn’t believe Texas has had any nursing strike, ever.
“When nurses unionize it is because they have gone unheard and undervalued for so long. And we should have never got to this point,” she said.
Green said he’s been in Texas for 20 years and has not heard of a major strike like this, in general, before.
The Austin strike is one of three planned strikes at Ascension-owned hospitals across the country. Two others are both in Wichita, Kansas.
Ascension Texas’ full statement
While as a ministry of the Catholic Church we affirm the right of our associates to organize, we are disappointed that National Nurses United made the decision to proceed with a strike, especially given the hardship this presents for our associates and their families, and the concern this action may cause our patients and their loved ones.
Patient safety is our top priority, and Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin is open and well-prepared to continue to provide patient centered, holistic care during this unfortunate strike. We have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure there is no disruption in service for those who are entrusted to our care.
Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin is following national best practice for implementing a strike contingency plan that is compliant with The Joint Commission, OSHA, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In order to fulfill our commitment to uninterrupted quality care for our patients, we have contracted with a staffing agency that specializes in work stoppage events and has provided us with a full complement of highly skilled and credentialed registered nurses.
Regardless of the planned duration of this disappointing strike, we are contractually required to commit to a minimum of four days of work for any registered nursing staff replaced, starting from the first day of the strike. Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin registered nurses who chose to work on June 27, 2023, were not replaced and may work their regularly scheduled shifts during the contractual replacement period. Any registered nurse who chose not to work on June 27, 2023, was temporarily replaced and will be able to return to their scheduled shifts beginning the morning of July 1, 2023, as soon as our replacement agency contractual obligation is fulfilled. This decision is guided by our commitment to safe, high-quality, compassionate care for our patients, and our fidelity to the virtue of justice and the appropriate stewardship of resources.
Notwithstanding this disheartening strike, we will continue to negotiate in good faith to come to a mutually beneficial agreement on an initial contract that respects the human dignity and rights of all. We look forward to returning the focus to resolving issues at the bargaining table and reaching agreement on a fair and reasonable collective bargaining agreement for our registered nurses.Ascension Texas