Union Contract Protects Us and Our Working Conditions – Even in the Face of a Worldwide Pandemic
In the fall of 2021, during a surge in COVID, the Salem hospital involuntarily transferred several outpatient nurses to Med Surg and the ICU to care for the hospital’s influx of patients. The hospital did so over ONA’s clear objection, not to mention, the COVID surge was anticipated and not a surprise. The union leadership had been asking the hospital administration all summer what their plan were to staff Inpatient and the ICU in the event of another surge. It was clear they had no plan other than to exploit their nurses.
Each of the impacted nurses had formerly worked in the Med Surg or the ICU earlier in the pandemic but had exercised their rights under our union contract to transfer to other units for personal and professional reasons. Like so many other nurses throughout Ohio and our nation, COVID had taken its toll on them mentally and physically and they needed relief. Six of the nurses stood up and said, “NO, we do not agree” and filed grievances. In the meantime, they complied with the hospital’s directive, disrupted their personal and professional lives, and valiantly cared for their patients to the best of their ability.
One nurse who had been involuntarily transferred three times testified, “I don’t understand how you can keep doing the same thing to the same people over and over and over again and expecting them to still give of themselves…at some point, we need to be able to take care of ourselves too, because we’re not any good to anybody if we aren’t even taking care of ourselves…and the idea that it’s a duty and the comparison of nurses to soldiers, I don’t agree with. It’s not the same, it’s just not”.
The involuntary transfers also impacted two nurses who were in the process of training for a certification that would allow them to provide chemotherapy treatments to the hospital’s cancer patients, and which also came with a certification differential. The hospital first told them that they could continue with the training, and a week later reneged on that commitment – delaying their certification by over 3 months.
In responding to the hospital’s arguments of “management rights”, “what else could we have done?” and “the staff needed to demonstrate selfless efforts”, Arbitrator Nadelbach wrote, “I have to respectfully disagree with the hospital’s self-serving assessment and judgement. First, the management rights provisions, by its express terms is not all-encompassing…A close reading of the of the parties’ agreement demonstrates that may provisions highlighted by the union indeed limit management’s authority to unilaterally pull or transfer nurses or to adjust their shift and work schedule…”. In his award, the arbitrator stated, “The hospital violated the parties collective bargaining agreement when it all involuntarily pulled the named grievants from their home unit to either the ICU or Med-Surg and also required them to work different shifts and hours, including weekends…The hospital is ordered to cease and desist any such further actions…the hospital is directed to pay (two grievants) and make them whole for the loss of the certification that they suffered by the delay in their ability to obtain their oncology certification…”
Congratulations to the six Salem hospital nurses who stood up for themselves and their union brothers and sisters to demand that the hospital respect them and their union contract.