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MercyOne nurses approve labor strike

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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - Union nurses at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center have voted to authorize a labor strike.

In a separate vote on Monday night, members of the union also voted to reject the employer's offer.

That decisions come after a series of weekend votes facilitated by the United Food and Commercial Worked Union, Local 222.

A spokesperson for the unions says negotiations on a new contract for the nurses have been ongoing for more than six months. The nurses have been working without a contract since their contract expired on Sept. 1, 2019.

The nurses are asking for a pay increase, guaranteed medical benefits and a lower patient-nurse ratio.

A spokesperson for the union says quote: "Today's votes send a clear message that MercyOne nurses are unified in protesting MercyOne's unfair labor practices and standing together to ensure they receive the terms and conditions they deserve."

The full statement from United Food and Commercial Worked Union, Local 222 reads as follows:

“Our community’s caregivers should never have to struggle to provide for their families or tend to their patients, but that is the current reality for hundreds who work at MercyOne Hospital.  These hardworking nurses should not face discipline for simply speaking out for a fair contract. 

“In violation of the National Labor Relations Act, MercyOne has unlawfully intimidated, coerced, and disciplined our hardworking nurses for standing up for themselves and for supporting their union and each other during the course of these contract negotiations.   

“MercyOne nurses have earned and deserve a contract that addresses the understaffing crisis, provides competitive wages and benefits, strengthens workplace safety, and invests in the skilled care they provide every day. 

“Today’s votes send a clear message that MercyOne nurses are unified in protesting MercyOne’s unfair labor practices and standing together to ensure they receive the terms and conditions they have earned and deserve.”

In a letter sent to MercyOne colleagues, a spokesperson for MercyOne wrote "Though these recent events are disheartening, we will remain focused on our central mission of providing extraordinary, compassionate care for the patients we are privileged to serve. Our highly skilled and dedicated team of colleagues, along with the contribution of contingency resources, will allow us to continue our healing ministry."

The full letter reads from Beth Hughes, President, West Iowa Region, to MercyOne colleagues reads as follows:

"Dear MercyOne Siouxland Colleagues:

"It is a disappointing day for all of us at MercyOne Siouxland as our union dues-paying nurse colleagues voted to reject our contract offer and authorized a strike. This is unfortunate given our hope to work together to overcome differences identified during negotiations.

"The purpose of this communication is to provide you with information related to the contract, planning for the strike and your role during this time.

"As you know, MercyOne leaders have been meeting with union representatives for more than seven months to reach a new contract agreement. There have been multiple meetings, significant discussions and formal negotiation sessions. Last week, we provided the union with a new, proposed contract that addresses several important financial and work-related matters. I am proud of this contract because it recognizes and rewards the important work of our nurses, while being respectful of the financial realities we face today in health care.

"I would like to share some of the key items covered in our latest contract proposal:

  • All nurses would receive, on average, a 3.4 percent increase in pay each year during the three-year contract.
  • Differential pay remains the same with additional pay for two new classifications of nurse specialty – Tier One and Tier Two. Tier One nurses (includes Cath Lab, Obstetrics, Post-Critical Care Unit and CVOR) would receive up to an additional 3.6 percent each year of the contract. Tier Two nurses (includes Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit or Post-Anesthesia Care Unit) would receive up to an additional 7.6 percent each year of the contract. This increase in pay is important for us to recruit and retain specialty care nurses. The differential pay allows us to begin closing the staffing gap, which is a universal challenge for hospitals today.
  • Already agreed upon key improvements, which include staffing, seniority, job postings, leave of absence, bereavement leave, health and safety and more.

We will continue discussions around health care insurance cost containment and have agreed to bring a health plan leader from Trinity Health to Sioux City to meet with the bargaining unit representatives.

We strongly believe this is an excellent contract and addresses the many concerns and discussions we have had to date. It is important to know that only 52 percent of our nurses were eligible to vote because they pay union dues.  In addition to voting down the contract, the nurses authorized a strike which can only occur after the union provides us with a 10-day strike notice.  Here is some additional information related to a potential strike:

  • Iowa is a right-to-work state and no nurses are required to strike. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) forbids any type of action toward a nurse who chooses to continue to provide care for patients.
  • Any strike will last a minimum of three days. We have a contract with a nurse staffing agency in the event there is a strike, and the agreement requires three days coverage.
  • Once nurses return to work, they will be assigned departments and shifts, potentially different than previous assignments as allowed under NLRB guidelines.

Though these recent events are disheartening, we will remain focused on our central mission of providing extraordinary, compassionate care for the patients we are privileged to serve. Our highly skilled and dedicated team of colleagues, along with the contribution of contingency resources, will allow us to continue our healing ministry.  I am confident we will come to a resolution in accordance with our mission, values and cultural beliefs."

Carl Norquist

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