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Understaffed Nurses Strike

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Key Takeaways

  • Nurses at Cook County Health went on strike due to staffing shortages.
  • Additional employees, including social workers, went on strike for staffing shortages and unfair pay.
  • Nursing strikes have increased across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic due to overworked and understaffed units.

After nearly 900 nurses went on a one-day strike at Chicago-based Cook County Health, additional staff went on strike the next day. 

The nursing strike began on June 24 due to staffing concerns. The union said the largest sticking point for nurses in negotiations is a failure to address persistent staffing shortages throughout Cook County Health. The health system has augmented staffing with agency nurses in key areas and has staffing in place to meet current patient care needs.1 

The nurses, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United,  work at John H. Stroger Jr. and Provident hospitals, the various clinics and at the Cook County Department of Corrections.1

In a news release, Consuelo Vargas, RN, an emergency room nurse at Stroger, said: “Many patients have gone without care during the pandemic and are now beginning to seek treatment for their ongoing medical conditions. Yet we are constantly understaffed, and because of that, we are losing experienced nurses.”1 

The nursing strike ended on June 25, but on the same day, social workers and other staff  began to strike. SEIU Local 73 represents about 2400 workers including housekeeping, food service, medical technologists, respiratory therapists, ward clerks, mental health workers, physician assistants, medical assistants and care coordination staff. Workers in this strike represent Cook County Health at Stroger and Provident hospitals.2

Similarly to the nursing strike, these employees went on strike due to pay equity, pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic and retiree health benefits. About 2000 SEIU workers planned to be on strike; however, the Illinois Labor Relations Board identified more than 300 SEIU positions within Cook County Health that should be enjoined and prevented from striking, and that ruling was formalized through a court-ordered injunction June 24.2

The second strike will continue indefinitely. 

Cook County is not alone. Nurses have been striking at alarming rates since the onset of the pandemic due to excess work hours and shortages across the country. Some notable nursing strikes that occurred since January 2021 include:

  • McLaren Macomb in Mount Clemens, Michigan;
  • University of Cincinnati Medical Center;
  • Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts;
  • Logan Health in Kalispell, Montana;
  • Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, California;
  • San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, California


  1. Gooch K. Nearly 900 Chicago nurses strike. Becker’s Hospital Review. Published June 24, 2021. Accessed June 6, 2021. 
  2. Gooch K.  Nursing strike ends, another begins involving Chicago healthcare workers. Becker’s Hospital Review. Published June 25, 2021. Accessed July 6, 2021. 

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