LORAIN — Mercy Regional Medical Center nurses will be walking the hospital floors and the picket lines today.
An informational picket by the Service Employees International Union District 1199 will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today outside the hospital at 3700 Kolbe Road. The picketing comes a day before talks are to resume with a federal mediator assigned by the National Labor Relations Board. The three-year contract between Mercy and the union expired Friday.
There are about 590 members in the union, which was formed in 1999, according to Al Bacon, SEIU District 1199 secretary-treasurer. He said they earn an average of about $26.81 per hour.
Bacon said the union is seeking slight wage increases in its contract and opposes proposed increases in payments for health care benefits and cuts in benefits. He said nurses pay about 17 percent of their benefits and are being asked to pay a graduated increase to 20 percent combined with higher deductibles and co-pays.
“We’ve made every effort to come to terms in this situation and we’re just not there yet,” Bacon said.
Jan Yergan, vice president of strategy and business development for Mercy, said the nurses are paid about $4 more per hour than at other area hospitals. Yergan said Mercy is projected to lose about $2.5 million in Medicare reimbursements this year and $2.5 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
The reductions are part of a move by the Obama administration to make reimbursements for evidence-based procedures rather than fees for services. Both President Obama and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, propose about $716 billion in Medicare reimbursement reductions to insurance companies and hospitals.
Given the likelihood of reduced future reimbursements, Yergan said the hospital wants nurses to accept the same health and pension benefits as non-union employees have received since 2008.
“What SEIU would like is to keep an exclusive pension with higher hospital contributions, and a Cadillac of health benefit plans,” she said. “Our hospital continues to struggle like other health care facilities. The rules change constantly.”
Bacon also accused the hospital of understaffing and putting patients and staff at risk. “Staffing levels directly affect the quality of patient care,” he said. Yergan denied the hospital is understaffed.
The union has had two, one-day strikes and one, four-day lockout since its formation.
Yergan said the hospital has a contingency plan to bring in strikebreakers if a contract can’t be negotiated. Both Bacon and Yergan said they are hopeful a strike can be averted.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.