Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nurses' union at Ascension Seton gets a boost as nursing fellows and residents join

Nurses march on a sidewalk and hold signs that say "My neck, my back, we need a fair contract," and "Nurses outside = something wrong inside."
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Nurses strike at Ascension Seton Medical Center on Dec. 6, 2023, in Austin.

The nurses’ union at Austin’s Ascension Seton Medical Center added 225 nursing residents and fellows to its ranks this week. According to National Nurses United, 96% of the eligible staff voted to join the local hospital’s affiliate union, which now represents more than 1,000 registered nurses.

“The nurse residents and fellows at ASMCA have ushered in the new year with a wonderful victory for their patients and for the RN movement nationwide,” said NNU President Jean Ross in a statement.

Wednesday's vote was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board and ushered in new members that include recent nursing school graduates enrolled in a one-year residency program at the hospital, along with staff belonging to a six-month fellowship for nurses who are in the process of switching to new specialties, NNU said.

ASMCA’s nursing staff voted to unionize in September 2022, but up until now, the hospital has not recognized residents and fellows under NNU’s collective bargaining agreement.

“We are dedicated to working together with all associates to ensure Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin continues as a destination of choice for high-quality care, as well as a preferred place to work,” Ascension Seton representatives said in a statement following the vote.

The union held day-long strikes in June and December last year to put pressure on ASMCA amid ongoing negotiations for the union’s first contract with the hospital. Strike participants said staffing levels at ASMCA are insufficient, as are supplies of key equipment like IV pumps and thermometers.

Hospital leadership barred union members who participated in both strikes from returning to work for an additional three days, citing contracts with temporary replacement workers. However, fellows and residents who participated were instructed that they should return and were expected to work their scheduled shifts.

Kristine Kittelson, a union member, said this was an attempt to divide nurses in the facility and intimidate newer nurses completing fellowships and residencies.

“Ascension tries to divide us and make it seem like our newer nurses are not nurses,” Kittelson said in December. “They spend a lot of time creating chaos and instilling fear in these new nurses, which is actually really sad for the ongoing retention of our newer nurses.”

Amanda Pierce Cheng, an RN in the hospital’s medical intensive care unit, finished her residency last summer and chose to stay on as a nurse at ASMCA. However, she said four members of her eight-person cohort decided to seek employment elsewhere when their residencies ended because of concerns about hospital conditions.

“I stayed because I think that with the union [involved] and all of us together that our collective voice will make the difference that I'm waiting to see in the hospital,” Pierce Cheng said. “I think we have a greater chance of working together to improve the conditions at our hospital, to have better retention and to improve patient care.”

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
Related Content