Nurses’ union ordered to pay $6.26 million to Riverside hospital over pandemic-era strike

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A nurses’ union was recently ordered to pay Riverside Community Hospital $6.26 million in a dispute over a nurses’ strike in 2020.

A third-party arbitrator on May 31 ordered local nurses’ union SEIU Local 121RN to pay the fine to cover the costs of replacement workers during nurses’ 10-day strike over staffing and safety gear shortages just six months into the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020.

It’s the second half of a May 2023 decision by the arbitrator, who then ruled that nurses with SEIU Local 121RN – which represents 9,000 nurses and healthcare workers in Southern California – did not follow due process as stated in its contract before the strike, the hospital said in a news release.

The hospital also argued that because nurses voiced concerns over personal protective gear, the reasons for the strike were not covered in its contract.

In a June 13 news release, Jackie Van Blaricum, president of HCA Healthcare’s Far West Division, and the hospital’s CEO during the strike, said the union showed “reckless disregard” for the community by calling the strike.

However, the union’s executive director, Rosanna Mendez, maintains the union was not in violation of its contract with the hospital and plans to “take all measures available to get the decision overturned.”

She said the union entered discussion about staffing shortages with the hospital and reached a staffing agreement in May 2019, which ran through May 2020.

The union attempted to extend the agreement in May 2020 before it expired, but the hospital denied attempts to negotiate an extension, Mendez said, and the union issued a strike notice soon after.

She also defended nurses’ call for more personal protective gear during the strike.

In a 2020 news release from the union, several nurses described hectic conditions in the hospital during the pandemic.

Some said they didn’t get breaks for up to eight hours, while others said they were sometimes required to stay with patients for five to seven hours at a time, leaving dozens of other patients unattended. Additionally, a nurse said many of her colleagues contracted COVID-19 due to lack of safety measures, and two staff members died.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, nurses were experiencing daily trauma,” Mendez said. “To expect that nurses weren’t going to talk about personal protective equipment is outrageous.”

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