The Austin Chronicle

Seton Nurses Finally Win Contract With Ascension

By Lina Fisher, March 5, 2024, 5:15pm, Newsdesk

On Monday, unionized nurses at Seton Medical Center on 38th finally ratified their first-ever three-year contract with Ascension.

Nurses have been negotiating with the health care nonprofit since they unionized in September 2022, becoming the largest private-sector nurses’ union in Texas, with 1,100 RNs. Though small gains were made throughout bargaining, Ascension remained obstinate on the one that mattered most: safe staffing levels.

Over the last two years, nurses called attention to staffing and several other issues with historic strikes in June and December last year. After each one-day strike, the nurses were locked out by Ascension for an extra three days due to “contractual obligations” to the temp staffing agencies Ascension contracted with. They returned each time to what they described as diminished patient care, due to poorly trained fill-in nurses who were unfamiliar with the hospital’s procedures and protocols. Outside of strikes, they continually faced shortages of integral supplies like linens and baby blankets. They said staffing and supply shortages affected adult and neonatal intensive care units especially, where patients are most at risk already.

According to a Tuesday press release from National Nurses United, the contract implements minimum staffing ratios accepted as standard nationwide – a minimum of one RN for every four patients in the emergency department, and one RN for every two patients in the adult and neonatal intensive care units, and the labor and delivery unit. The contract also improves transparency and communication between staff and management, establishing monthly meetings between 10 RNs and managers. Crucially, it addresses staff retention by increasing pay by an average of over 11% across the board, with some receiving as much as a 25.9% increase over the three years of the contract. It also sets standard language on health, safety, infectious disease prevention, and workplace violence prevention.

“We are so proud of this contract that sets enforceable standards for safe staffing, which has always been our number one priority,” said perioperative services nurse Zetta Hackleman in the press release. “This contract holds Ascension accountable to enforcing safe nurse-to-patient ratios, which we know saves patient lives and boosts nurse recruitment and retention. It also gives us a formal process through the professional practice committee to regularly advocate on behalf of our patients and our communities.”

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