Nurses Reject Contract Offer, Call for Negotiations

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Registered nurses at East Liverpool City Hospital announced Saturday morning they have overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer made by hospital owner Prime Healthcare, calling instead for additional negotiations until a mutual agreement can be reached.

Members of Local 5903 of the Ohio Nurses Association/ East Liverpool Nurses Association voted throughout the day and evening Friday on what hospital officials have called their last, best and final contract offer. During a press conference outside the hospital Saturday morning, ONA representatives reported the offer had been rejected for the second time.

“This is the second time we considered and rejected this offer,” said Lori Bruce, union president, adding that 99% of the union membership had voted to engage in an unfair labor strike in November after voting down the same offer.

In response, Rick Perez, director of marketing and business development, said in a prepared statement, “East Liverpool City Hospital values our frontline staff and we will continue to provide high-quality and compassionate health care to our community in a safe environment. ELCH is open to continuing our communication with the ONA.”

The nurses walked off the job for three days in November in response to what they have called unfair labor practices due to hospital officials failing to negotiate.

“It has been a trying year for East Liverpool nurses on multiple fronts. We read the headlines, we listened to the news. We saw COVID-19 creep into our own community and then within our own hospital,” Bruce said. “We were concerned what this new virus would mean for ourselves and our community. We were concerned because we were already short-staffed.”

According to Bruce, the union has asked for help more than once and has been told no and now is facing a “crisis of insufficient nursing staff.

“But, we’ve adapted because that’s what our patients and community needed us to do. That, of course, came at a cost: More burnout, more moral injury and more trauma for our nurses,” she continued.

Bruce said there is currently a 22% vacancy rate at ELCH, with one unit alone suffering 17 vacancies.

“Nurses can travel to neighboring hospitals and make $10 more per hour. East Liverpool nurses rank 103 out of 121 hospitals,” she said. “Not only are wages inadequate, but working conditions put patients and staff at risk every day. There is a direct correlation between staffing and patient care.”

Lori Bruce, president of the local ONA unit

These frustrations have led to even more nurses resigning, Bruce said, noting three have resigned in the last week.

“Who wants to work for a hospital that doesn’t value its nurses and disrespects them publicly on social media over and over?” she asked. “It’s clear to us the hospital doesn’t care about our concerns but has played upon our nurses’ trying year. Though we’re tired, we keep on trying. We will continue to fight for what they deserve.”

Bruce said there is no impasse as hospital officials have declared, saying the hospital and Prime Healthcare has an obligation to continue bargaining. The union intends to pursue the unfair labor practice charges it has filed against the hospital, she added.

“We expect a resolution at the first of the year,” Bruce said, although she said there are currently no bargaining sessions scheduled.

Asked if the union foresees a more traditional, lengthier strike, Bruce said there are no plans for such at this time, adding, “Our community needs us.”

Also scheduled to speak at the press conference was registered nurse Melissa Cain, but she was unable to attend due to volunteering to work two additional 12-hour shifts.

In a prepared statement read by Molly Homan, an ONA spokeswoman, Cain stated, “As the effects of the pandemic continue to mount, we have been faced with a growing number of stresses and fellow workers have fallen ill in increasing numbers, worsening our need to dedicated and qualified staff. Attracting and retaining staff at our hospital is our primary focus. I cannot do my job alone.”

Jordan Wilson, registered nurse and a member of the negotiating team, voiced the union’s appreciation to the community for its support.

“Many of us live here, which is why we have chosen to work here at City Hospital,” Wilson said. “Your encouragement and support has meant the world to us. We will continue advocating for our patients and fighting for the community. You deserve better. We deserve better. All of us deserve better.”

Also offering support to the nurses was city Councilman John Mercer, whose licensing and economic development committee was addressed earlier in the week by Cain.

“This facility is very important to this community,” Mercer said during the press conference. “You’re important. You have my support and council’s. Whatever we can do to help, we will. It’s very important for a community to have its own hospital, but it’s important for the people who work there to receive wages the benefits they deserve.”

Mercer noted that city council had voted during its recent meeting to support the union and that a letter of support is also forthcoming.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.