The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Loretto Hospital Strike

Sep 4, 2023

On July 31st, 200 workers struck at Loretto Hospital, a small hospital in the Austin neighborhood, serving Chicago’s West Side. The workers, about one third of the total staff of the hospital, are members of SEIU Healthcare.

Loretto workers demanded better pay: a starting wage of $17 an hour for housekeepers and $19 for certified nursing assistants. Striking workers say the low pay contributes strongly to high turnover and is a big reason that the hospital is severely understaffed, with some departments running 35% short of the people they need to function.

Loretto workers, particularly those in its emergency room, often face violence—which comes with serving an area of the city wracked by very high poverty and drug addiction. One emergency room worker on the picket line had a scar on his arm from where a patient had bitten him two years ago.

Earlier this year, a patient died in the hospital’s ER waiting room, according to an inspection by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That night, there was only one nurse, staffing both the waiting room and the triage room. These striking workers rightly point out the human costs of this severe understaffing, both to themselves and their patients.

Workers at other hospitals face the same problems. Saint Bernard’s, in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side, settled a contract a couple days after the Loretto strike began. Roseland hospital on the Far South Side is still in negotiations. Saint Bernard’s, Roseland and Loretto are all so-called “safety net” hospitals, serving the poor and the working class, and getting most of their funding from Medicaid and Medicare. But the same problems exist even at hospitals that are larger and serve wealthier patients, including Northwestern.

Loretto workers ended their strike August 11th, winning some of their pay demands. The fundamental problem is that capitalist society treats healthcare as an engine for generating profit. This means that working class communities with less money to spend will have healthcare institutions that are understaffed and starved for funding. The conditions Loretto workers fought exist across the healthcare system. We will most likely see many more fights like theirs.