Stand with SLUH Nurses

Over the past several months, union nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital have been fighting ongoing aggression from SSM Health against their right to a democratically elected union and to bargain collectively for measures that would improve patient care. Both SSM Health management and faculty from the SLU School of Nursing have engaged in intimidation and coercion of SLUH nurses to revoke their union membership. These are not the values of justice and economic equality that SLU professes to uphold. If President Pestello and the rest of the administration wish to honor Catholic teachings that support the right of workers to organize, they must use their power to support and protect SLU nurses. The administration and broader SLU community should stand with SLU nurses against efforts that put profits over people. 

While SSM Health manages the day-to-day operation of the hospital, SLU’s hands are not as tightly bound as President Pestello and the administration has attempted to portray. Not only do the two organizations have numerous financial ties, but they also work together to determine the daily operations of the hospital. The anti- union and anti-patient practices conducted at SLUH tarnish the values and ethics that both SLU and Catholic healthcare profess to share. 

Employees who work directly for SLU have conducted themselves in ways that undermine the educational and patient care mission of SLU. At least two educators employed as faculty at SLU Nursing School have used mandatory class time provided for training to encourage newly hired SLUH nurses to sign a petition for removal of the union. Shockingly, they did this under false pretenses in which nurses were told they were only signing the petition to get SSM Health to provide more information. 

As nurses and SSM Health continue contract negotiations, a main point of contention between SLU nurses and SSM are staffing levels at SLU Hospital. In these negotiations nurses have proposed staffing standards that have been proven to improve patient health outcomes and reduce mortality rates. Despite this, SSM Health has declined to seriously respond to the nurses’ proposal for safe staffing levels. 

SLU Hospital is unique in the St. Louis area in that the majority of its patients are low-income and African Americans. It does not deny entry if someone cannot pay due to lack of insurance. For this reason many other hospitals in the region regularly reroute patients to SLUH. Patients often come to SLUH when they have no other options. To help heal the immense health inequities in the St. Louis region, it is critical that SSM Health and SLU take steps to improve the level of care at SLUH. SLU’s mission statement includes the University’s goal to “extend compassionate care to the ill and 

needy.” SLUH often falls short of this goal because they fail to properly staff their hospital in order to save money. 

SSM and SLU are both Catholic led institutions. The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services authored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops clearly defends the right of workers to have a democratically elected union. Through their actions, SSM Health and SLU are turning their back on their foundational principles. Such principles are meaningless unless acted upon. President Pestello should call on SSM Health to end its hostility towards those at the front lines in providing care for those most in need in the region.