LORAIN — Mercy Regional Medical Center nurses plan to walk the picket line rather than the hospital’s halls Oct. 19.
Leaders of Service Employees International Union District 1199 on Monday gave Mercy officials the required 10-day notice of a 24-hour strike.
“It raises the level of the seriousness to the community about the issues that are out here and it obviously costs the hospital financially,” said Al Bacon, secretary/treasurer of SEIU 1199, which represents the 590-member nurses union. “This community deserves to know that there are real problems here.”
The nurses’ contract expired Aug. 31 with negotiations deadlocked over benefits, pensions and wages. Union leaders say staffing is also an issue which hospital officials deny.
Changes being proposed by Mercy and Catholic Healthcare Partners, the Cincinnati-based nonprofit hospital chain that owns Mercy, would switch nurses’ pensions from a defined benefits plan to a 403(b) plan. The plan is similar to a 401(k) pension that relies on stock market investments. Mercy also wants nurses’ health care contributions to increase from 17 percent to 20 percent with higher co-pays and deductibles.
Bacon, the lead union negotiator, said the union is seeking approximately 3 percent annual raises for the nurses. Mercy spokeswoman Janis Yergan, who did not provide documentation, previously said the nurses earn about $4 more per hour than nurses at area hospitals. Bacon, who said the nurses earn nearly $30 per hour and work 36-hour weeks, disputes Yergan’s contention.
Yergan, in a written statement, said any nurses replaced by strikebreakers will not be allowed to return to work for five days. Yergan wouldn’t comment further. Strikebreakers receive five-day contracts, according to an information sheet Mercy provided to nurses. Bacon said an unfair labor practices complaint would be filed with the National Labor Relations Board over the five-day return policy.
Yergan wrote that a strike was unnecessary, and Mercy was committed to the highest level of care, “regardless of the disruptive action by SEIU.” While union leaders say Mercy is playing hardball, Yergan wrote that Mercy was bargaining in good faith and “fully committed” to negotiating a contract fair for nurses and financially feasible for Mercy.
“Instead of working with us toward resolution, the union is attempting to create unnecessary anxiety for patients and their family members,” Yergan wrote.
The union contends Mercy is understaffing nurses to save money, which Yergan denies. Bacon said the union has filed a complaint with the NLRB over Mercy’s new “team-based nursing” plan that Mercy said will increase efficiency.
Bacon said Mercy officials didn’t consult the union when they announced the plan Thursday, which he said was a labor violation. Bacon said the union was planning to strike prior to the announcement, but Mercy officials, “continue to ignore our requests to address the serious problems this creates.”
Mercy CEO and President Ed Oley — who earns $704,897 annually, according to an Internal Revenue Service document —announced the initiative as part of a $10 million savings plan. The plan includes layoffs of 20 non-union workers. Mercy officials project a $4.1 million deficit this year, primarily due to shrinking Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that are part of health care reforms designed to cut costs by reducing unnecessary care and duplicative services.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com.