August 20, 2014

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Mercy nurses OK 3-year contract

LORAIN — Nurses at Mercy Regional Medical Center have called off a strike scheduled for Friday after the union approved a three-year contract agreement with the hospital.

Al Bacon, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, released a written statement after more than 500 nurses represented by SEIU District 1199 voted on the contract Saturday night.

“The registered nurses of Mercy Regional Medical Center care about the patients this hospital serves and this new agreement is a testimony to their devotion to this community and to their professions,” he said. “This contract is a product of cooperation by the nurses and the hospital in the interest of patient care.”

Bacon would not comment on the specifics of the contract but said nurses felt the new agreement would allow them to continue “top-level, quality care to the community and maintain dignity, rights and respect at the hospital.”

Mercy and SEIU representatives had been meeting regularly since June and continued collective bargaining sessions with a federal mediator after the contract expired Aug. 31.

SEIU District 1199 did not initially support changes proposed by Mercy and Catholic Healthcare Partners, the Cincinnati-based nonprofit hospital chain that owns Mercy, which 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 wanted nurses’ health care contributions to increase from 17 percent to 20 percent with higher co-pays and deductibles.

Mercy spokeswoman Janis Yergan previously said the nurses earn about $4 more per hour than nurses at other area hospitals. The proposal was part of a cost-savings plan after Mercy officials projected 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.

Bacon has disputed Yergan’s claims, saying that nurses earn nearly $30 per hour and work 36-hour weeks at other hospitals. Nurses were seeking 3 to 4 percent annual pay increases, although Mercy originally proposed 1.7 percent increases.

Edwin Oley, president and CEO of Mercy, called the nurses “a critical part of the Mercy team” in a news release. Oley said he believes the contract is fair to both sides.

“This wasn’t about winning or losing,” he said. “It was an opportunity for a great hospital and great caregivers to collaborate. While we may not always agree, our interests are aligned with the ultimate goal of being the best place to receive care.”

Bacon said the community has largely stood by the nurses while negotiations were made.

“The registered nurses of Mercy Regional Medical Center were moved by the overwhelming amount of support shown by the greater-Lorain community,” he said. “The countless calls, emails and demonstration of solidarity from patients, clergy and labor were an inspiration to the hard-working caregivers at the hospital.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.