TOLEDO, Ohio — Nurses and hospital workers at Mercy St Vincent's went on strike May 6 and have formed a vocal picket line ever since.
The workers are asking for better health-care coverage and on-call hours.
Mercy Health has released a new statement regarding the strike, saying:
"Mercy Health – St. Vincent Medical Center and Children’s Hospital remains steadfast in our commitment to serve our community. We have proposed a fair and competitive offer to all our associates and have been willing to discuss issues such as on-call with the UAW leadership – where together, solutions could be developed. Since April 10, we have not received any new proposals from the UAW, therefore, we appear to be at impasse. We remain focused on caring for our patients and their families as we have for more than 163 years."
Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and Lucas County commissioners have extended their support for them, saying both sides need to come together to find a solution.
Toledo City Council members also expressed their support at Tuesday's meeting.
"Those people (workers) have been out of work now and on strike for about a week. And if it continues ... I think we ought to put a resolution together asking the banks to give them some leeway to assist them because they are, through no fault of their own, not receiving funds," council member Larry Sykes said.
Other members such as Yvonne Harper, Gary Johnson and Nick Komives said it's important that all sides get to a resolution.
Lucas County commissioners called the strike one of the biggest labor disputes in Toledo history.
Mercy Health spoke out on Monday and thanked those who have been helping the hospital run as planned during the strike.
On Tuesday, the hospital released a new statement that said they are willing to discuss issues with the UAW leadership, including on-call hours.
"Since May 10, we have not received any new proposals from the UAW, therefore, we appear to be at impasse," the statement read.
Those on strike said they still have hope that they will eventually go back to work, but until an agreement is reached, they will hold their ground.
WHAT LEAD UP TO THE STRIKE
Mercy Health employees said they did not want to strike and leave their patients, but felt they had to in order to make their voices heard.
They have also stressed that the issue isn't about money but about making sure they can safely take care of their patients.
"I'm overwhelmed at just their misunderstanding of what's really going on. I mean, we nurses miss lunch, we miss breaks. We can work nine hours without really going to the bathroom unless we ask somebody to cover our patients," nurse Latonya McDonald Greenlee said.
UAW leaders said negotiations to try and resolve these issues have been going on since July 30 of last year with more than 60 bargaining sessions.
"The UAW represents the hospital workers here and they've ratified eight contracts with other people they represent during the time that nothing has really happened at Mercy Health St. V's, so I think the UAW has distinguished itself as being willing to bargain in good faith," union leader Sandy Theis said.
"When you're fatigued and you're tired, you're stressed and overworked. It becomes harder and harder to provide the care these patients deserve and that's why I feel this is so important, yet it's also unnerving," OR nurse Michele Powers said.
The strike began on May 6 at 4:30 p.m., right when National Nurses Week started. More than 2,000 health-care workers got involved.
The strike is not limited to St. Vincent. About 10 nurses and support staff at Mercy Health Cancer Center at St. Anne Hospital are part of the United Auto Workers and staged their walkout May 6 and joined the strike.
On May 7, Mercy released an official statement addressing their offer.
According to their statement, Mercy Health officials had not made a new offer since April 10. They also said they have been receiving support from their sister facilities to continue to run as usual.
However, many nurses and even patients spoke out on social media, saying surgeries were canceled and units were consolidated, which is not the way the hospital normally runs.
Mercy Health officials said they did adjust their hospital schedules, but do not attribute any cancellations to the strike.
The UAW has called out Mercy Health for spending money to put their name on a sports complex in Cincinnati. The union argued that the money invested in the team should have been used to support the hospital staff.
When hundreds walked more than a mile from the UAW headquarters to Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center officially starting their strike, workers chanted "when we work, we need a break" and "patients over profit."
"This should send a message to Cincinnati where Mercy's headquarters is that this community supports the workers and they need to get on board and do the same thing," Rich Rankin, director of UAW Region 2B, said.
"It's upsetting. There were a lot of tears this past week that we even had to come to this point, so we just want to be valued and appreciated," Denise Duffus, UAW Technical Unit chairman, said. "We're not greedy, we're not asking for anything outrageous. We just want to have decent health care so that we can continue to care for our patients."
State Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) issued a statement the day the strike began:
“Going on strike is reserved as a last-resort option when negotiations break down. I’m concerned that the UAW – representing nearly 2,000 nurses at the hospital — and Mercy St. Vincent’s were not able to reach a tentative agreement to avert the strike. I support a fair collective bargaining process for both sides and I stand with my brothers and sisters in labor who made a tough decision today in order to get a fair contract and have their concerns addressed.”
At the same time, Mercy Health workers and even retired doctors spoke about their claims that the hospital had not made an effort to provide them with the necessary supplies while at work, adding another complaint to the list.
On the day the strike started, the UAW announced it had filed charges against the hospital for urging employees not to participate in strike and forcing those who are striking to use their vacation time.
Hospital officials said that no employee will be penalized for participating in this strike and are welcome to take their jobs back at any point.
But many St. Vincent workers said they feel ignored.
"So I’m completely sympathetic that the money has to come from somewhere to provide better care. But what they have to look at is they can’t provide care without the human beings that are essential to that care," said Johnathon Ross, a former physician at St. Vincent.
"We want to make sure the public and the press know what's going to happen later today. We fully expect to see a picket line at 4:30 p.m., unfortunately," Theis said on May 6. "The nurses are heartbroken. It's National Nurses Week and many of them are going to walk into the hospital and walk out and join the picket line."
"We were working in the neuro ICU and I was saying goodbye to my patients and family members who were sitting there, and they were nervous. I said, 'Don't worry, we're waiting for the relief to come. They are coming and they are getting properly trained,'" one nurse said.
Patients are at the center of the strike, with some even joining the nurses and staff with their own signs of support.
"I love this facility, I love the staff, I love the nurses," patient Angela Grajczyk said. "But they are drowning and they really do need help."
Nurses Kaycee Buck and Cindy Bruss said the support they are receiving from the public is "overwhelming" and "incredible."
Leaders at the UAW said that the strike will go on as long as needed, but they are open to negotiating, and workers said they're eager to get back to work.
"We're have been and always will be willing to sit down with the hospital when they are willing to offer us a fair agreement that we can take back to these hardworking men and women and they can be proud of," Rankin said.
Mercy Health officials said they've tried to set up meeting with the UAW since the strike notice was issued, but claim the UAW canceled those meetings.
However, union leaders said they have never walked away from negotiations.
"The hospital has been accusing the union of not being willing to show up at the bargaining table. There was an April 23 email and they said to the nurses, 'We met with you, you gave us our proposal, that was our last and best offer and we will say the same thing to the other units. 'Well, why would you come to the table and talk to them if they've already made it clear that they're done?" Theis said.
Mercy Health officials said in the negotiating sessions they've had, the UAW's message has been unclear and is constantly changing.
The workers are not only concerned about getting what they want out of the strike but also about their patients not getting what they need.
Theis said when Mercy brings in new workers, the patients won't have the same relationships with them as the other nurses and staff.
"The nurses don't want to leave their patients, and Mercy serves some of the most vulnerable patients in northwest Ohio. They have relationships with them and [the nurses] deal with a lot of trauma patients, and so those nurses will not be there to continue to provide the care that they've always provided. That's why they became nurses," Theis said.
When ProMedica hospital officials were asked about possibly preparing for an influx of patients due to the Mercy Health nurses strike, they released this statement:
“ProMedica hospitals regularly train for scenarios that involve a rapid increase in the number of patients seeking treatment. Over the past week, we have taken several measures to make sure we have the extra staff and resources in place to continue delivering high quality, compassionate care should we experience a surge in patient volume. We are ready to provide any necessary support to help ensure that the healthcare needs of our community are being met.”