Nurses Walk out at East Liverpool City Hospital, Cite Unfair Labor Practices

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — As expected, members of Ohio Nurses Association/East Liverpool Nurses Association Local 5903 at East Liverpool City Hospital hit the picket line early Saturday and look to be off work until Tuesday at 7 a.m., protesting what they call unfair labor practices by the hospital administration.

The ONA represents 128 registered nurses at the hospital, owned by Prime Healthcare Foundations headquartered in California.

The three-day strike notice was issued after 11 bargaining sessions between the union and hospital administration failed to produce a contract satisfactory to both parties, according to Ashlee Severs, R.N., a negotiating member and commissioner for the ONA.

While salaries have been a sticking point in negotiations, Severs said the walkout is primarily a ULP — unfair labor practice — strike, saying, “They have not participated in fair bargaining but in regressive bargaining,” which she described as making offers then taking them away before the union membership could react.

“That’s not how the process is supposed to work,” Severs complained.
She claimed the union had not been given the opportunity to fully review the hospital administration’s last, best proposal before it was recalled, saying, “There were still things we were asking, and things we were waiting on responses for.”

She declined to provide specifics on what the union is seeking, saying, “We think proposals should be between the two negotiating teams, not public.”

A social media post was made by the hospital administration earlier this week, outlining the pay scale, salary increases and tuition reimbursements offered in negotiations, with a comment that “this offer was extremely competitive and fair. It was our hope that the Ohio Nurses Association/East Liverpool Nurses Association Local 5903 would have accepted this fair and more than competitive offer to avoid a strike during this national pandemic and with the current escalation of COVID-19.”

The pay rates being offered by the hospital administration do not allow for recruitment or retention of nurses, according to Severs, who said nurses can go to local nursing homes and earn more than they do working at ELCH.

Currently, there are 20 vacancies on the nursing staff, she added.
The post further noted the offer had been withdrawn due to the union failing to accept it.

Replacement staff has been brought in for the three days. When asked if she and the other nurses are concerned about their replacements’ abilities or qualifications, Severs said, “We feel we know our community and our patients and feel we’d be the best ones to take care of them.”

Asked if the hospital had taken steps to plan for a shortage of local nurses during the walk-out, Severs said, “They did attempt to send out their ICU (critical care) patients to other hospitals.”

The contract, which expired at 11:59 p.m. Friday, has been extended twice, and Severs said, “We offered to withdraw the strike and continue with the contract if they continued fair bargaining, but they declined. If they called us right now, we’d be OK with going back to the negotiations table. I do not understand why they wouldn’t want to invest in their nurses so their patients get the best health care.”

A light rain fell Saturday as nurses and their supporters gathered along the sidewalk in front of the hospital’s main entrance and near the emergency entrance, but that did not deter them from chanting, “Patients over profits,” and “Hey, Prime, you can’t hide; we can see your greedy side,” as passing motorists blew their horns in support.

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Nurses and their supporters took to the picket line outside the front entrance of East Liverpool City Hospital Saturday morning. Among them was Ashlee Severs, commissioner for Ohio Nurses Association Local 5903.

Some social media commentary was surfacing prior to the morning’s walkout, chiding the nurses for leaving their posts when the county has just been declared in the “red,” or emergency level, for COVID-19.

However, Severs emphasized the nurses are quite aware of the on-going pandemic, which explains why only a limited time strike was planned.

“That’s why we proposed only three days. We want to provide that quality care, but we also want to show Prime Healthcare we deserve a fair contract and show we mean business,” Severs said.

A message left with the administrative offices at the hospital Saturday was not returned, nor was a message for comment left for Mayor Greg Bricker due to the hospital being one of the city’s major employers.

Nurses on the picket line recalled a strike in 2003 that lasted two weeks, while a threatened strike was avoided in 2014 when a contract was ratified while the hospital was in the midst of a possible merger with the former Humility of Mary Health Partners, now Mercy Health, which operates St. Elizabeth Hospital in Youngstown. At that time, the hospital employed 133 registered nurses.

Plans to merge with River Valley Health Partners were scrapped in 2014, after which Prime Healthcare Foundation acquired its holdings, which included East Liverpool City Hospital, in 2016.

According to the American Hospital Directory’s Sept. 28 listing, the hospital has 130 staff beds and, while the obstetrics and pediatrics services were discontinued in 2015, it still offers cardiovascular, emergency, oncology radiology, ICU, surgery and wound care services at its West Fifth Street facility.

In 2019, the hospital’s total patient revenue was $366,245,726, with $1,358,332 in non-patient revenue, for a total net income of $8,291,980, according to the AHD.

Pictured at top: Picketing nurses outside East Liverpool City Hospital object to what they believe are unfair labor practices by the hospital administration.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.