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Judge prevents some U. of I. Hospital nurses from striking

A Cook County judge has thrown a wrench into a planned Wednesday nurses' strike at University of Illinois Hospital, ruling that 213 of those nurses can't participate because it would endanger patient safety.

Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Mullen on Friday granted the U. of I. Board of Trustees a temporary restraining order, prohibiting nurses in certain areas from taking part in the strike if no contract agreement is reached before then. The bargaining unit includes about 1,200 nurses.

Mullen wrote that the order was necessary "to avoid or remove any clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public."

Nurses who won't be allowed to strike include those working in the bone marrow transplant unit, emergency department, labor and delivery, five intensive care units, the oncology center and the psychiatric comprehensive adolescent treatment unit.

The trustees had argued, on behalf of the university's health system, that the hospital couldn't replace all the nurses in those units for the day and wouldn't be able to transfer all the affected patients to other facilities for the day.

"There are certain units within UI Health that, due to the unique and critical nature of the services provided in those units, the significant and specialized needs of the patients they serve, the lack of qualified substitutes to perform the nurses' duties and the inability to move such patients to other facilities without jeopardizing their health ... would constitute a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public," the trustees said in a court filing.

The Illinois Nurses Association said in a statement Friday that the hospital was granted a similar restraining order three years ago, the last time a contract was being negotiated. In that case, the system and union reached an agreement before a planned strike.

"We find it interesting that in court, (the hospital) says its nurses are indispensable, but at the bargaining table, they treat them with disrespect," the association said in the statement.

The hospital and the nurses, represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, have been negotiating over a new contract for months. Negotiations continued Friday.

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @lschencker

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