As nurses demand fair wages and raise understaffing concerns, nurse strikes have been popping up all over the United States in 2022.
In fact, 12% of all work stoppages in the United States were in the healthcare and social assistance industries in 2021.
These industries also accounted for over half the workers involved in work stoppages (though mostly because of two huge “sympathy strikes” in California).
In this post, you’ll learn why nurses are striking, why there may be more nursing strikes in 2022, and where strikes have taken place in 2021 and 2022.
Why Are Nurses Striking?
Some nurses are striking because the unions that negotiate their contracts have been unable to come to an agreement with the hospital administrations.
Since the hospitals won’t meet their demands and nurses are critical to the functioning of a healthcare facility, it forces the hospitals to hire more expensive replacements. These are typically travel nurses or temporary workers.
Strikes are a way to put pressure on the hospital to comply with the nurses’ demands.
Those demands usually include the following.
Better Pay And Benefits
There are a number of reasons nurses are advocating for higher wages and better benefits.
Everything from inflation to the importance of nurses in healthcare infrastructure are reasons they want increased compensation.
Of course, the high demand for and limited supply of nurses is also driving the value nurses provide to hospitals.
Finally, the increased risk of illness and workload during the pandemic have left many nurses feeling underappreciated and overworked.
Lighter Patient Loads
In a survey released in April of 2022, over 69% of nurses who responded said staffing is slightly worse or much worse recently.
That is about 20% higher than a September 2021 survey and almost 48% higher than a March 2021 survey.
The survey also found:
- Over 26% of nurses were reassigned to a clinical area that required skills they didn’t have. This was around 18% in September
- 46% of nurses were reassigned to units outside their area of expertise with no education or training
- Almost 65% of nurses said hospitals are using too much overtime to staff units
Nurses have said that excessive patient loads lower the quality of patient care. It causes burnout for nurses.
By assigning them a more manageable workload, they believe they’ll be able to improve patient outcomes.
Mental Health Support
Almost 67% of the respondents from the survey above reported that they are afraid they will contract Covid-19. This number was 42% in September.
Even worse, nearly 84% said they feel stressed more often now than they did before the pandemic. In September the number was 53.5%.
Finally, 23% of nurses reported that they sought mental health treatment related to caring for patients during the pandemic.
Safer Work Environments
48% of respondents from the survey above reported rising levels of workplace violence. In September, this number was almost 31%, and in March it was just below 22%.
A 2016 BLS report showed that “violent events accounted for 12.2% of all injuries to registered nurses (RNs).”
Only 32% of nurses surveyed believed they were provided sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). 24% thought their hospital informed them of Covid-19 exposures in a timely manner.
What Happens To Patients When Nurses Strike?
Although the thought of nurse strikes seems worrying, nurses and hospitals take precautions to ensure patients aren’t negatively affected.
While it’s arguable that temporary workers with little knowledge of new protocols could result in lower-quality care, there’s no substantial proof that patient outcomes are negatively affected.
Striking Nurses Provide Advance Notice
While protocols may vary from organization to organization, it’s common practice for RN’s to put safety mechanisms in place before striking.
For example, National Nurses United does the following:
- 10 day written notice to the hospital so there’s time to move patients or find temporary replacements
- A “Patient Protection Task Force” of RNs organizes the transfer of patients
- The task force assesses any emergency assistance requests that occur after the strike begins
Travel Nurses Fill Shortages
Even when nurses strike, hospitals are still required to have nurses on duty. To fill in the gaps, they hire temporary replacements like travel nurses.
In fact, some travel nursing agencies specialize in supplying hospitals with staff on short notice.
While replacement nurses are important for making sure patients are taken care of, it can lead to tensions when striking workers return to their posts and work with replacements.
Patients Are Transferred
Hospitals typically bring in temporary staff to help out during strikes, but they may also transfer patients to nearby healthcare facilities because of staffing shortages.
By organizing the transfer of patients, it ensures they receive the attention and quality care they need when workers are in short supply.
The Debate Over Patient Safety
An analysis of 50 nursing strikes over 20 years conducted in 2012 found that strikes had a negative impact on patient outcomes.
However, many of the hospitals from the study did not use replacement workers.
Also, most of the strikes in the study lasted a month or longer. Many of the recent strikes (with a few exceptions) have been rather short, lasting less a week or even just one day.
This makes it difficult to understand whether or not the recent patient strikes have negatively affected patient outcomes.
Upcoming Nurse Strikes In 2022
Bloomberg Law reports that the potential for nursing strikes may be elevated in 2022. This is because a lot of union contracts are set to expire this year.
In fact, 318 contract expiration notices were submitted to the federal government. There are also 140 contract settlements set to expire.
The expiring contracts could affect up to 207,000 healthcare workers. The number could be even higher, as some expirations may not have been filed yet.
Some healthcare systems with contracts expiring this year include:
- University of California (14,600)
- New York City Hospital Alliance (10,000)
- Michigan Medicine (6,100)
Possible Nurse Strike At Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR
1,600 nurses at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland voted to authorize a strike on May 5, 2022.
This means the union can file a 10-day notice for a strike at any time. However, there will be more bargaining sessions which could prevent it if an agreement can be reached.
The union and hospital have been in negotiations for seven months.
Nurses are advocating for:
- Increased staffing
- Affordable healthcare
- Paid leave
Completed Nurse Strikes In 2022
April 25-29: Stanford Health Care and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital In Palo Alto, CA
5,000 nurses went on strike at Stanford Health Care and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA in April of 2022. 93% of nurses voted to authorize the strike.
They were seeking:
- Increased compensation
- More staffing
- Better mental health support
The union and hospital reached an agreement after a week-long strike. 83% of nurses voted to ratify the new contract.
April 18-19: Sutter Health In Northern California
More than 8,000 RNs and other healthcare workers organized a one-day strike at Sutter Health facilities in Northern California.
The striking nurses were concerned over short staffing problems. Picketing occurred at several locations, while the hospital brought in replacement workers.
Following the strike, those who participated were not allowed to return to work until April 23. During this time, they were not paid.
It does not appear the two sides have reached an agreement yet.
April 11-12: Howard University Hospital In Washington, D.C.
300 Registered Nurses and other healthcare workers at Howard University in Washington, D.C. organized a one-day strike on April 11, 2022.
The workers were requesting “a fair contract and safe staffing to protect patients.”
Despite months of negotiations, it does not appear that the union and hospital have reached an agreement.
March 30-31: AHMC Seton Medical Center In Daly City, CA
Nurses at AHMC Seton Medical Center in Daly City, CA organized a one-day strike on March 30, 2022.
The nurses were upset over a lack of:
- Staffing of nurses
- Support staff
- Supplies like gloves, syringes, and gowns
The hospital says the reason for the labor dispute is the demand for higher wages, and they claim the demands aren’t sustainable for the hospital.
It does not appear the two parties have come to an agreement.
March 13-17: Armstrong County Memorial Hospital In Kittanning, PA
Over 200 nurses at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in Kittanning, PA began a 5-day strike on March 13, 2022.
It was the first strike at the hospital in more than two decades. Nurses were concerned over insufficient staffing and inadequate recruitment.
It does not appear the union and hospital have come to a resolution.
March 8, 2021 – January 3, 2022: Saint Vincent Hospital In Worcester, MA
800 nurses were involved in a strike at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA that lasted 301 days.
The striking nurses were advocating for patient safety. They claimed the hospital wasn’t doing enough to address understaffing issues.
In a vote of 487-9, nurses ratified a contract on January 3 after a tentative deal was reached by the union and hospital on December 27. Features of the new contract included:
- Pay increases
- Clearer rules regarding workplace violence
- More manageable workloads
The contract lasts until December 2025.
Nurse Strikes In 2021
There were 14 strikes involving healthcare workers in 2021 in the United States.
Of those 14, the following seven involved nurses.
October 17-20: Abbott Northwestern WestHealth In Plymouth, MN
Allina Health temporarily suspended emergency and urgent care services at Abbott Northwestern WestHealth in Plymouth, MN from October 17 until October 20.
The strike involved 50 nurses demanding fair holiday pay and appropriate benefits.
After seven attempts at negotiation that lasted months, the Minnesota Nurses Association and hospital could not come to an agreement.
The strike did not result in a settlement.
October 1 – November 4: Mercy Hospital In Buffalo, NY
Nearly 2,000 hospital workers began a strike at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital of Buffalo on October 1.
The nurses were striking for improved wages and increased staffing. In an open letter, Mercy Hospital workers wrote:
“Our hospital, and the hospitals throughout the Catholic Health system, are dangerously understaffed… Every day, we are terrified of needless patient deaths in our hospital because we are stretched so thin.”
The union and Catholic Health System reached a tentative agreement on November 4.
June 24-25: Cook County Health in Chicago, IL
Over 900 nurses went on strike regarding concerns over understaffing at:
- John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital
- Provident Hospital
- Cook County Health system’s clinics
- Cook County Department of Corrections
The strike lasted one day and an agreement was reached. RNs received pay increases from 12% to 31% and Cook County Health agreed to add 300 nurses.
They also added 19 new patient care support positions in several units.
June 1-4: Logan Health In Kalispell, MT
About 650 nurses went on a 4-day strike at Logan Health in Kalispell, MT starting on June 1.
They were seeking increased compensation and staffing. Negotiations between the union and hospital lasted for two years and were in the public eye at times.
While the strike only lasted a few days, a union contract was agreed to in September which included a 7% wage increase for RNs.
May 25-26: Chinese Hospital In San Francisco, CA
About 100 RNs working at Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, CA carried out a one-day strike in May. They were seeking improvements in pay as well as working conditions.
The strike’s activities included:
- Picketing outside the hospital
- A march to Portsmouth Square in the city’s Chinatown area
- A Zoom rally
The union and hospital came to a tentative agreement in October of 2021. The new contract featured improved compensation and benefits as well as new opportunities for advancement.
One RN from the hospital also boasted that the agreement could help the hospital “recruit and retain experienced nurses, especially the bilingual nurses who are so critical for our patient population.”
April 21-24: Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock, PA
84 healthcare workers at Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock, PA, including nurses, went on strike advocating for better staffing and pay.
The workers also claimed that Community Health Systems, the Tennessee-based, for-profit corporation that owns the hospital, has given raises to executives while failing to invest adequately in bedside care.
It doesn’t appear that the nurses’ demands were met, and the hospital ceased surgical and acute inpatient care in September 2021. However, the hospital continues to offer emergency and outpatient services.
April 16-18: Barton Memorial Hospital In South Lake Tahoe, CA
About 155 nurses went on strike at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, CA in April 2021.
The nurses complained of inadequate staffing and problems with nurse retention and recruitment.
Negotiations between the union and hospital began in March 2018. Nurses went on strike for the first time in 2019, but to no avail.
It appears the most recent strike didn’t help the two parties reach an agreement either.
There’s no denying that nurses are some of the most in-demand workers right now. Since they are so critical to healthcare infrastructure, they have more freedom to raise concerns over fair labor practices.
As it stands, more nurses are gearing up to retire or leave the industry soon. In fact, over one-third of nurses reported it’s very likely they’ll leave their roles by the end of 2022.
As nurses continue to drop out of the industry, the demand for their skills will continue to increase.
If you’re looking to become an RN or advance your nursing career, consider enrolling in an educational program. While RNs are desperately needed, nurses with advanced education and skills are even more valuable to the healthcare system.