Loretto Hospital in Austin has reached a tentative deal with about 200 striking workers who took to the picket line July 31.
The staff members, represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois, include frontline, service and technical employees. The hospital has remained opened during the 11-day strike.
Staffing shortages at the hospital were one of the main issues employees cited. Gains made in bargaining include increases to minimum rates for all titles, across-the-board increases, years of service increases and recognition of the Juneteenth holiday, according to the union.
“We are really pleased with this agreement,” said SEIU Healthcare Illinois president Greg Kelley. “We got raises for all of the job classifications, and almost as important, we got minimum rates that increased for all job classifications. Our members are really excited and we’re prepared to present that to them for ratification.”
Kelley said the proposed deal would make Loretto “far more competitive than it was before the strike.”
The process of having workers ratify the agreement will begin Friday.
“We think it’s really just the first step in really making safety net hospitals like Loretto good places to work that really will help make these communities better,” said Kelley.
In a statement, Loretto Hospital confirmed the tentative agreement.
“It is critical that Loretto Hospital remains open and accessible to the Austin community,” said the hospital in the statement. “We will continue to partner with SEIU, clergy, corporate and community stakeholders to secure the funding and resources needed for the hospital’s long-term growth. We welcome our team members back to work.”
Hospital workers described the deal as a win not just for them but also for the Austin community.
“We know we could make more at another hospital, but we stay here because we care about our patients and community,” said Carla Haskins, a Loretto patient care tech and bargaining committee member, in a statement. “This contract isn’t just a win for us – this is a win for all of Austin. This fight has always been about securing quality healthcare for Loretto patients and Austin community members – a community we workers belong to ourselves. This contract is a major first step that will help Loretto retain and hire more workers to address the staffing crisis.”
Workers and management had been at the bargaining table since May, as the union negotiated around key issues of increased wages and staffing.
Union representatives said the hospital faced vacancy rates of up to 35% for various positions, creating unsafe staffing conditions. Union representatives also said Loretto Hospital lagged behind other hospitals on wages, despite the state allocating $10 million in funding to address worker recruitment and retention.
At the start of the strike, a spokesperson with the hospital said non-union employees have not received salary increases in over three years and voluntarily took a 10% pay cut to prevent the layoff of team members.
The strike had brought out union supporters and allies at various rallies including Chicago Teachers Union President Stacey Davis Gates and Cook County Board of Commissioner Tara Stamps, who represents the district, in addition to several city alderpeople and state representatives.
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson with the hospital had claimed union members were causing safety and patient care issues by blocking public alleys and hospital entrances, preventing the delivery of supplies for patients.
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, on July 31. She’s also a member of the union’s bargaining committee. “Loretto Hospital is the heart of the community.”