Article Title

Making Pigs Fly


[Excerpt] "You'll see a union in this hospital when pigs fly." So went the opening statement by the new Vice President of Human Resources at St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois.

Poor staffing ratios, out-dated equipment, lack of respect and nonexistent communications between staff and management compelled the nurses of St. Joe's to bring in the Illinois Nurses Association in February, 1991. Fifteen years earlier, the nurses had tried to organize a union but had lost the election. Ironically, the issues were the same — nothing had changed.

The odds still appeared to be against the nurses. St. Joe's management hired the notorious law firm Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather and Geraldson and two anti-union consultants, Modern Management, Inc. and Management Science Associates. They forced the nurses out on strike for 61 days in the dead of winter, and tried to use a Colorado-based scab nursing agency, U.S. Nursing, to bring in replacements. This time, however, the outcome was different. On March 16, 1993, after the longest strike in Illinois nursing history, the St. Joe's Nurses Association/INA signed their first contract with the medical center.

Had it not been for the overwhelming community support, built over the months of organizing and negotiating, there is little chance that we would have won our struggle for a union. We gained support not only because our cause was just, but because we had strong primary and secondary leadership in the union and a communication network which reached every St. Joe's nurse. We took these same strengths and skills and applied them in the public arena. Anti-union management, union-busting lawyers and consultants could not stop us.