EL Nurses to Vote on Hospital’s ‘Final’ Contract Offer

EAST LIVERPOOL — Although registered nurses at East Liverpool City Hospital are “extremely disappointed” that hospital administrators have chosen to halt contract negotiations, a spokesman for Local 5903 of the Ohio Nurses Association/East Liverpool Nurses Association said Friday a vote will be taken on the last offer the union received.

Talks Tuesday between the two parties failed to reach agreement on a new contract. On Thursday, Rick Perez, ELCH director of marketing and business development, reported that an impasse had been reached after the ONA was unwilling to accept what he described as the hospital’s last, best and final offer of Nov. 17.

Perez said also since the union’s actions had resulted in withholding higher wages to nurses, the hospital will proceed with providing its last proposed wage increases to the RNs. 

In response, Bob Cousins, deputy executive officer of labor relations with the ONA, referred in a prepared release Friday to Perez’s statements, saying the hospital announced it refuses to negotiate with its registered nurses and union.

“The hospital is, instead, imposing a portion of what it deems their last, best and final offer. The ONA, which represents 130 registered nurses at the hospital, has repeatedly told hospital management the nurses want to negotiate a resolution to the dispute and bargaining is not an impasse because ONA remains open-minded and flexible in its positions.”

Cousins said the registered nurses represented are “extremely disappointed their employer chose this route of indirect communication and cutting off all negotiations. The hospital is owned and operated by California-based Prime Healthcare. These out-of-state actors have left the nurses without a contract in the middle of a worsening pandemic. Their actions are undermining the hospital itself.”

The nurses’ contract expired Nov. 21, after which they went on a limited three-day strike to enforce their demands for a fair contract while giving themselves leeway to return to care for patients in light of the pandemic, rather than the replacement nurses who were brought in for the three-day walkout.

Prime Healthcare’s contract offer would actually decrease the starting salary of experienced nurses by more than 8% in some cases, Cousins said,

“This clearly will not help the nurse retention crisis we are facing. Our research shows that East Liverpool City Hospital ranks 103 out of 121 hospitals in Ohio rates of pay.”

Cousins went on to say nurses will vote on the hospital’s offer, although a date for that vote has not been determined.

“The nurses have repeatedly communicated their willingness to work with the hospital toward a fair contract,” according to Cousins, who said this week’s announcement by Perez is contrary to recent statements by hospital CEO Keith Richardson.

Richardsaon was quoted as saying publicly, “We hope that we can sit down with them soon so we can finish negotiations” and that he wanted to “reach an agreement with the nurses.”

Cousins said, “Nurses are dismissing his comments as mere lip service as Prime Healthcare continues to undermine nurses’ work lives and local management’s credibility.

“It’s clear the hospital would rather lean into Prime Healthcare’s history of anti-labor behavior and fight with the nurses instead of listening to them. We are disappointed that Prime has decided to use this pandemic as a way to exploit nurses. This is not how you treat East Liverpool’s community heroes.”

The ONA has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the hospital and Prime Healthcare in response to alleged bad faith bargaining and other tactics, which Cousins said are being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board.

“Our willingness to negotiate a contract that addresses then needs of the nurses, patients and community still stands,” he concluded.

Perez reiterated Friday night ithat the hospital has provided the union with its last, best and final offer, “an offer that is beneficial to our nurses and our community,” and that the hospital is proceeding with its last proposed wage increase.

“We have repeatedly addressed the union’s questions and have provided all requested information in good faith. We are at an impasse only because the ONA is unwilling to accept this last, best and final offer.”

According to Perez, the hospital values and appreciates its nurses. The ONA’s suggestion that Prime Healthcare is using the pandemic to exploit nurses is “not only offensive but extremely unprofessional in nature,” he said.

“At East Liverpool City Hospital, we view our entire health care team as heroes, and it is our heroes [who] continue to provide high quality health care in a safe environment to our community. Our awards substantiate our claims in how we care for our patients.”

Pictured: Members of Local 5903 of the Ohio Nurses Association/East Liverpool Nurses Association staged a three-day strike last month.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.