Nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas have voted to authorize a strike. A landslide majority vote of 98% was made in favor as the union called the hospital’s responses to negotiations “unacceptable and delayed.” If the strike occurs, it will be the largest nursing strike in Texas history.
Unionization and Reasons for Strike
In September 2022, the nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center voted to unionize with the assistance of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU), becoming the largest private nurses union in the state of Texas. The union currently represents over 900 registered nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center.
According to the NNU, the strike authorization vote on June 1, 2023, was fueled by hospital management’s continued delayed response to the nurses’ contract proposals. These proposals were based on nurse complaints of “inadequate training, delayed response to hospital alarms, and delayed response to crying babies.” Nurse-to-patient ratios are an intrinsic part of the negotiations, as many nurses say they are unable to provide the appropriate standard of care for the number of patients assigned.
The nurses have vowed to issue a notice of intent to strike at least ten days in advance in order to provide Ascension with time to coordinate alternative patient care coverage. The date of the strike has not yet been set.
Prior to the official strike vote, the nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center conducted a rally on January 26, 2023, highlighting their complaints and demanding the action of hospital management. The hospital released the following statement regarding the rally:
“As healthcare systems across the U.S. continue to experience nursing shortages, we have a robust workforce development program focused on recruiting and retaining nurses through our residency and fellowship program, our nurse scholarship program and partnerships with more than 40 schools of nursing, as well as community partnerships that support our growing healthcare needs. The union event being held Jan. 26 is a bargaining tactic initiated by National Nurses United in the midst of contract negotiations. We respect the right of our associates to hold an informational assembly outside our facility and we will continue to negotiate in good faith. We look forward to a collaborative dialogue at the bargaining table.”
In another statement, the hospital said, “We continue to negotiate in good faith to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the nurses of Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin,” it said in a statement. “Our goal is to support all of our associates in a just and equitable manner as we continue to provide safe, compassionate care to those we are privileged to serve.”
NNU said the contract proposals would ensure “the highest level of patient care in Austin, by improving nurse recruitment and retention so that every unit has safe staffing levels.”
NNU has also made multiple Twitter posts regarding the Ascension nursing strikes, saying in one Tweet, “Nurses at @Ascensionorg Seton Medical Center Austin have voted 98% to authorize an #RNStrike — the first strike of its kind in Texas! Austin nurses are ready to do what it takes to win a strong contract that protects our patients’ safety!”
Image: NationalNursesUnited Twitter
Another Tweet shows a video of multiple Ascension Seton Medical Center nurses sharing their support for the strike, captioned, “We know @Ascensionorg has the deep pockets to address short-staffing issues, but they continue to put profits over patients. Nurses won’t stand for it and voted YES in Wichita and Austin!”
Image: NationalNursesUnited Twitter
Image: RNs outside hospital
“Our patients can’t wait any longer,” said Lindsay Spinney, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit. “Nurses are sending a message to management with this overwhelming strike authorization that we are ready to do what it takes to win a strong contract that protects our patients’ safety.”
“Management’s behavior during negotiations has been nothing short of disrespectful, to nurses and the patients we are fighting for,” said Monica Gonzalez, a registered nurse in the neurology unit. “Nurses’ proposals are driven by a strong commitment to improving care at the hospital. Our hope was that management would be driven by the same goal. But when they take weeks, if not months, to respond to the solutions we’ve proposed, based on what we experience and observe on the floor day in and day out, it tells us they are prioritizing profits over patient care.”
“Our patients deserve better, and they need adequate staffing so that we can provide patients better, safe care,” said Kristina Fuentes, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“We’re having really high nurse-to-patient ratios, and it’s just leaving room for us to make errors that could be preventable and not giving our patients the care that they deserve,” said Kristine Kittelson, a registered nurse on the mother-baby unit.
“It’s morally distressing to work tirelessly for a nonprofit, Catholic system that consistently puts profits over its own patients and staff,” said Matthew Clark, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit. “We believe it is our duty to exercise our union power to ensure Ascension invests its deep financial resources back into its staff, patients, and the Austin community.”
Nurses and healthcare allies have begun taking to social media to voice their opinions on the strike.
LinkedIn user Jake McKee posted his insights on the Ascension Seton’s response to the strike authorization, stating, “When the nurse union reps showed up at the Ascension Seton offices to submit their strike pledge (a message to the administration that they’re ready to take action to win a fair contract, including a strike, if necessary), Ascension Seton staff locked the doors and hid out of sight to block the formal delivery of these documents. Shortly after, they spent money and time to add mirrored film on the office doors/windows so nobody outside could see inside the offices and know when people were staffing the office.”
TikTok user @fordsanders, who lives in Austin, posted a video providing an overview about the strike authorization.
@fordsanders #stitch with @Ford Sanders Ascension Seton unionized jurses in Austin have officially voted to authorize a strike if no deal comes about. 98% of them voted yes. This would be the largest nurses strike in Texas state history. #ascension #ascensionseton #nurse #nursesoftiktok #nursetok #nurses #nurselife #nursing #union #strike #healthcare #healthcareworker #hospital #texas #tx #austin #news #breakingnews #newsreporter #reporter #newsreport ♬ original sound – Ford Sanders
Nursing strikes are on the rise across the country, with more nurses voting to unionize and authorize strikes than ever before.
In addition to the impending strike in Austin, another Ascension-owned hospital in Wichita, Kansas recently authorized a strike due to similar complaints.
Nurses at another hospital, St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, just gave their 10-day strike notice this week.
In 2023, only two nursing strikes actually came to fruition. The first was the historic New York Nurse Strike, which was composed of nurses from Mount Sinai Health, Montefiore Health System, and Wyckoff Hospital, It ended in January 2023 after 3-days of strike picketing.
The second, a 1-day long strike, occurred at John Muir Behavioral Health Center in Concord, California in May 2023.
Nurses from several other healthcare facilities have authorized strikes in 2023, but agreements were reached prior to the strikes actually taking place. These locations included:
This uptick in unionization and strike authorizations indicates that nurses are ready and willing to use their voices to protest unsafe working conditions and demand safety for their patients.