August 22, 2014

Elyria
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Negotiations continue for nurses, hospital

The contract between Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain and the nurses who staff the hospital system’s facilities expires Friday, and there’s been little headway in hammering out a new pact.

The union held meetings Tuesday with its membership to vote on giving the union authorization for a strike and to stage informational picketing. The last meeting of the day was scheduled for Tuesday evening, and the union’s next step is expected to be announced later this week.

Ten to 12 issues related to patient care, wages and benefits remain unresolved. Both sides have agreed to call in a federal mediator, and that session is scheduled for Sept. 11.

The two sides have been meeting since June.

“There are a variety of options out there,” said Al Bacon, secretary/treasurer of SEIU/District 1199, the union representing the nurses. “Not only a strike, but an informational picket authorization. We want the hospital to provide a contract to get this thing settled.’’

Jan Yergan, vice president of strategy and business development for Mercy, said the hospital doesn’t think it is being unreasonable in its requests.

“What we are asking them to do is to accept the same benefit structure for everyone else at the hospital who is nonunion,’’ she said. “That does not appear to be acceptable to them. We are asking them to move to the same retirement plan that all others have had since 2008, and the same health package benefits.

“What SEIU would like is to keep an exclusive pension with higher hospital contributions, and a Cadillac of health benefit plans. Our hospital continues to struggle like other health care facilities. The rules change constantly. With two changes this year in terms of eligibility for hospitalization and a change in reimbursement for a procedure, we lost $5 million in revenue.’’

Yergan also said the nurses were seeking a wage increase package that over three years would amount to an 18 percent increase.

Bacon, however, said that simply isn’t true.

“I’m trying to figure out where that number came from,’’ he said. “Our initial proposal was not even that high, so I don’t where they came up with that.’’

Bacon labeled the unresolved issues as “serious’’ and said they all relate directly to what the union views as quality patient care. One unresolved issue is that many nurses work 12 hours with limited breaks, if they receive any at all, he said.

“That’s one of the issues. These are responsible nurses who will come to a reasonable agreement, but the hospital is not being reasonable,’’ Bacon said. “It is unfortunate it had to come to this. I would suggest that this is a situation that didn’t have to happen in this community.’’

Contact Julie Wallace at 329-7157 or jwallace@chroniclet.com.