JOLIET, Ill. — More than 700 nurses in the southwest suburbs went on strike Saturday morning.

The nurses at AMITA Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet have been working without a contract since May 9. They are seeking pay increases and minimum staffing levels.

The Illinois Nurses Association said bargaining sessions were canceled earlier this week.

AMITA released a statement saying the hospital is preparing to transfer some patients to its facility in Hinsdale and is also rescheduling non-urgent surgeries.

This is the hospital’s first nurse strike since 1993.

Read AMITA Health’s full statement:

AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet continues to negotiate in good faith with our nurse members of the Illinois Nurse Association (INA) on a new contract. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic impact on hospitals and health systems throughout the United States, and AMITA Health is no different. We have supported all our associates in many ways throughout the pandemic, including pay continuance and temporary premium pay for our frontline workers most affected, but like other health systems we have had to make some difficult decisions.

On Monday, our negotiators presented the INA representatives with a final offer, which addressed many of the issues under negotiation, including sick leave, tuition reimbursement and anniversary paid time off. Our negotiators have been clear that wage proposals presented during previous negotiations are no longer viable, however, due to the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. AMITA Health made the difficult decision to forgo merit increases for all our valued associates for fiscal year 2021 as we deal with the economic strain from the pandemic. This decision was not reached lightly, but we believe it is a more just alternative to the furloughs and layoffs many healthcare providers have seen as a result of the pandemic.

We are disappointed this offer was not accepted, and that the INA is now planning to strike. This is an unfortunate development that affects all our valued associates, whether represented by the union or not. Nonetheless, we are prepared to provide uninterrupted, high quality care and service throughout the possible strike. The health and the safety of our community are always our top priorities.