Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the National Nurses Union

The National Nurses United union, which represents 900 registered nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, voted May 31 and June 1 to authorize a one-day strike at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin.

What’s happening?

On June 2, the union announced the strike had passed with 98% support. The move follows contract negotiations that have dragged on since at least November, according to the union. The contract negotiations hinge on pay levels and other measures the union said are needed to fill vacancies and ensure retention.

“This action is disappointing given that both bargaining teams continue to work towards an initial collective bargaining agreement and have multiple sessions scheduled through the end of June,” a representative for Ascension Seton said in a statement.

How we got here

Matthew Clark, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit and a member of the negotiating team, said nurses are "leaving in droves" due to ongoing staffing issues.

Clark said nurses are asking for several changes to increase staff levels and ensure safety for staff and patients, including adding updated staffing minimums to the contract and creating a professional practice committee of nurses who can elevate problems and propose solutions to management.

In his unit, Clark said there are daily requests to pull staffing from other departments to handle incoming patients. He said that the low staffing levels mean nurses often work longer shifts than scheduled and are drained by the work. He also said the frequent turnover means a lack of experienced staff.

Previously, the union has staged a candlelight vigil and picketed in an effort to convince the hospital administration to take them more seriously, Clark said.

Community Impact has reached out to Seton for additional comment and will update this story when it is received.

The context

The nurses' strike would be the largest in Texas history and the first at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin. The NNU said it would provide at least 10 days' notice to the hospital. The Ascension Seton representative said a plan is in place if that notice is received.

What nurses are saying

“Our patients can’t wait any longer,” said Lindsay Spinney, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, in a news release. “Nurses are sending a message to management with this overwhelming strike authorization that we are ready to do what it takes to win a strong contract that protects our patients’ safety.”

“It’s morally distressing to work tirelessly for a nonprofit, Catholic system that consistently puts profits over its own patients and staff. We believe it is our duty to exercise our union power to ensure Ascension invests its deep financial resources back into its staff, patients and the Austin community,” said Clark in the release.

What Ascension Seton is saying

“We continue to bargain in good faith with National Nurses United (NNU) to come to a mutually beneficial agreement on an initial contract that supports all and will further our combined goal of providing safe, compassionate care to those we serve. We respect our associates’ right to organize themselves through union representation and participate in a strike authorization vote,” the statement said.

What happens next

Clark said he hopes that the move will motivate management to take the union more seriously. If not, he said the union is prepared to hold the strike.