Workers at Loretto Hospital in Austin took to the picket line Monday as the hospital and its workers union failed to come to an agreement on key bargaining issues, including increased wages and staffing.
Hospital management recently rejected a counteroffer proposed by the union and management did not provide another counteroffer at the time, said Anne Igoe, vice president for hospitals for SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, at a Monday afternoon press conference.
Front-line service, care and technical workers are among the 200 workers who are on strike. Workers and management have been at the bargaining table since May.
“You’re standing on your feet for 10 to 12 hours a day, and at the end of the day, you still have to beg for more,” said Regina Smith, a food service aid who has worked at the hospital for 15 years. “It’s heartbreaking to be in a position where you feel like your back is against the wall to pay your bills and to serve your community.”
The union representing Loretto Hospital workers, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said in a statement that the hospital is facing vacancy rates of up to 35% for various positions and a 60% annual staff turnover rate, which is creating unsafe staffing conditions.
Union representatives also said Loretto Hospital lags behind other hospitals on wages, despite the state allocating $10 million in funding to address worker recruitment and retention.
Ahead of the strike Monday morning, a hospital spokesperson said that if the union were to go through with a work stoppage, it would be solely because it wants “impractical” first-year wage increases.
“The SEIU’s demands far exceed the hospital’s current economic reality and eliminates our ability to provide wage equity for all hospital employees, including union and non-union,” said a Loretto Hospital spokesperson in a statement, adding that non-union employees have not received salary increases in three years and voluntarily took a 10% pay cut to prevent the layoff of their team members.
Loretto Hospital is a designated “safety net” hospital located on the West Side, and provides services to many underserved populations, including Medicaid recipients, uninsured patients and low-income communities.
“A lot of people in the community, they really depend on this hospital,” said Yolanda McPhearson, a lead crisis worker at the hospital’s emergency room who has worked at the hospital for 24 years. She’s also a member of the union’s bargaining committee. “Loretto Hospital is the heart of the community.”
A spokesperson with the hospital said in a statement that there are contingency plans in place that allow the hospital to continue to operate and meet patient care requirements.