Over 2,000 nurses, medical technicians, pharmacists surgical aides and support staff at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, went on strike on May 6th over the hospital’s overtime policies and high healthcare costs for employees. The hospital staff, who staged a walkout earlier in the week before going on strike, are organized and represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The union decided to call for a strike after nine months of negotiations between Mercy Health, the company that runs the hospital, and the employees ended in an impasse.
The staff staged a demonstration, chanting “patients over profits” and “union strong”, and formed picket lines in front of the medical center. Their protest received resounding support from the citizens of Toledo. Health and safety professionals, including retired physicians and Toledo’s firefighters, also endorsed the strike which entered its fifth day on May 10th.
The striking workers are demanding a fair contract that includes fixed costs for healthcare premiums over a proposed three-year contract, decent pay and limits on the number of hours employees must be “on-call” during the year. They are also calling on the company to ensure proper supplies for nurses, paramedics and custodians.
Tina, a nurse who has been working with St.Vincent for 30 years, said, “We need more staffing. Our health care plan is terrible, and they are trying to take away our pension. We are also forced to be on call. Matt Sapara, the hospital’s vice-president, says its voluntary, but that’s not true. They constantly push more work on you. We’re wearing too many hats. They also want to base compensation on ‘patient satisfaction.’ But nobody is satisfied when the hospital is understaffed, and patients are forced to wait for treatment. So, we get blamed for that.”
In 2018, Mercy Health merged with Bon Secours Health System of Maryland to become the United States’ fifth-largest Catholic health care system. Employees claims that since the merger, the hospital has been consistently understaffed, resulting in the on-call staff being stretched too thin. If the company manages to reach a deal with the union, it would be the first labor contract for Mercy Health since it joined forces Bons Secours.
Earlier this week, the UAW filed charges against the hospital for urging employees not to participate in strike and forcing those who were striking to use their vacation time. “We are losing pay by striking. I might even lose my job, but it’s not going to change unless we stand up.” said Michele, one of the nurses who is participating in the strike.
This strike is the latest in a series of protests that have been staged by hospital staff, especially nurses, across the US. In November 2018, more than 100 nurses in Los Angeles staged a one-day strike to protest the declining working conditions. More recently, in March, more than 10,000 members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) at New York’s “big four” hospitals voted by an overwhelming 97% margin to authorize a strike.