ST. LOUIS – Labor Day is meant to recognize the hard work people do every day. But for some, Labor Day doesn’t mean a day off.
Frontline health care workers routinely step up whenever duty calls. But now, nurses at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital are ready to strike if proper terms of work are not reached between the union and the hospital.
Every day looks different inside the emergency room. But what happens when those who are taking care of you are the ones in need of help?
“I got a call from my charge nurse saying, ‘Hey, is this patient stable? We have another trauma coming in.’ I was like, ‘This patient is not stable; you’ll need to find somebody else,’” said Hadas Becker, an ER staff nurse with almost eight years of experience.
Emergency nurses are among those deciding whose life needs to be saved and by whom. Becker has been faced with that scenario on more than one occasion.
“It’s full. It’s just full. There’s no beds. Who’s gonna take care of the next stabbing or next emergency that comes in? Sometimes we have to figure it out, and it calls for a very difficult situation,” she said.
And it’s not just a lack of beds; it’s a lack of nurses too. Eight hundred nursing positions exist, and Saint Louis University’s hospital has a 30% vacancy rate, which is 10% higher than others in the area.
“It creates difficulties on the unity of managing. Having beds is not the same as having staff beds as an emergency nurse,” Becker said.
Caring is in her nature, and she has children, including her 6-year-old son. She’s had to choose between lives on the line and those in her life.
“It’s always a difficult decision. It’s a call I know I’m gonna make to my husband when I say, ‘I’m gonna be late,’ and I know the frustration it causes my family,” she said.
It’s situations like this that have 94% of the nurses at SLU Hospital, one of the few unionized hospitals in the city, ready to strike.
Long, tough hours under strenuous conditions, shortened salaries, and poor retention rates have these nurses concerned.
“We’ve reached a point we’re beginning to feel that our ideas about how best to retain and recruit new nurses are not being listened to,” Becker said.
Most of the hospital’s 1,600 hires over the past three years have already left.
The issues go beyond the city. Missouri has nearly 120,000 licensed nurses, and not even 80,000 of those nurses are currently working.
“We just want to see that retention, and we want to see our pay match what we know we are worth as nurses,” Becker said.
At present, the hospital’s union is bargaining with SSM Health, something they’ve been doing since May, when their union contract ended. This strike isn’t the first they’ve contended to have. Around the same time in 2018, the union and its nurses also voiced a potential strike if the hospital could not meet criteria they believed were necessary.
“Treat us as the partners that we are,” Becker said.
Should bargaining not go as planned, they’ll give the hospital 10 days notice before striking for better standards.