EAST LIVERPOOL - Members of the East Liverpool Nurses Association and the Ohio Nurses Association said Monday that a contract proposal rejected last week by the union would jeopardize both nurses' and patients' safety.
The union voted 94-13 against the latest proposal by River Valley Health Partners/East Liverpool City Hospital, and in separate press releases, the ELNA and ONA explained the reason for the overwhelming rejection.
"The nurses feel the community needs to hear the truth in the overwhelming vote to turn down the most recent proposal from ELCH," according to the ELNA release, which sought to clarify information contained in the hospital's release last week and its Facebook page regarding the contract proposal.
At that time, the hospital administration said it was "disappointed" in the union's rejection of the proposal, saying, "The administration of East Liverpool City Hospital offered a fair and competitive contract which compared favorably to health care facilities throughout the region."
The union said Monday, however, "As the community is aware, ELNA and ELCH went back to the table after a couple weeks off in hopes to continue to negotiate with 'good faith bargaining.' The hospital came back to the table with the exact 'must haves' they needed that led to a 'no vote' meeting with ELNA on May 30."
The union said it wants the community to "be aware of the concessions the nurses are being asked to make that will satisfy ELCH's potential business partner, Humility Mary and Catholic Health Partners."
According to the ELNA, this includes new "management rights" that would gut nurses' professional rights and restrict their ability to advocate for patient needs.
Furthermore, the management rights being proposed also include provisions for subcontracting work, and union President Mary Kay Hoppel said that Humility of Mary is "such a large employer nurses are concerned their duties could be subcontracted to employees from throughout the Health Partners."
The union said the hospital is also demanding harsh new limits on issues in which nurses and their union could bargain, seeking to exclude health care benefits and retirement as future subjects of bargaining.
"The intent is to replace these bargaining features with a 'trust me' proposal," according to the release.
The nurses' negotiating team also said it wanted the community to know that other demands in the proposal included lowering starting wages, continuing to down-staff nurses without limitations and continuing to force nurses to work 16-hour shifts while eliminating overtime pay for such shifts unless a nurse has already worked a 40-hour week.
Referring to some provisions of an earlier proposal hospital administrators have made public, including pay increases to $34 per hour, 100 percent tuition reimbursement, overtime pay for over 40 hours per week and two-and-one-half-times pay for major holidays worked, the union responded, "What was not said was that nurses were willing to take a wage freeze, loss of paid time off and time-and-one-half for major holidays. The tuition offered to the nurses included 100 percent reimbursement but also a cap which was not mentioned. The overtime mentioned could have been acceptable if the hospital did not currently abuse the use of mandated overtime."
"The negotiating team felt this proposal silenced the nurses' ability to protect the patients' safety," the release continued.
Another important factor that influenced the nurses to vote overwhelmingly against the proposal was the elimination of current staffing grids that was a decision-making tool for providing patients with quality care.
The nurses are hopeful the hospital will be willing to negotiate a fair and equitable agreement for all parties involved, according to Hoppel, who said, "As mentioned above, such contract concessions that will effectively silence nurses' professional voice will affect patients and their families. When someone is sick, you want the nurse at their bedside to be able to speak up whenever she needs to speak up."
In its own release, the Ohio Nurses Association agreed with the ELNA's rejection of the proposal, saying, "The proposals put forth by the hospital to appease Catholic Health Partners threaten to take away the nurses' essential rights and benefits. The hospital has repeatedly tried to bully our nurses into accepting their unfair proposals by diverting patients, shutting down portions of the hospital and even threatening future layoffs - all in an attempt to satisfy a business partner without regard for what's best for the nurses for the community."
The hospital had taken steps to prepare for patient care by limiting admissions after nurses filed a 10-day strike notice, which the union later withdrew. Hoppel said no new plans are being made to strike at this time but also said no talks had been scheduled as of last night.