By Anne Mueller
We all remember when Steward Healthcare, the For-Profit Health care system out of Dallas, Texas betrayed the citizens of Youngstown and the entire region when they closed Northside Medical Center after just 17 months of operations. The closure meant that vital medical services were vanished, and 188 dedicated nurses lost their jobs.
When the negotiated severance payments were made in the fall of 2018, several part-time nurses noticed they were underpaid. Some were underpaid by thousands of dollars! Steward – always looking to save a few dollars – had unilaterally decided to pay them based on their base FTE, rather than the hours that they had regularly worked. The Closure Agreement was clear: severance pay was to be paid based on a nurses’ seniority and based on her “regularly scheduled hours”. The nurses contacted ONA and asked us to intervene.
ONA filed a grievance which was allowed under the terms of the negotiated Closure Agreement. That was in November 2018. In January 2019, a grievance meeting was held, and five members attended the meeting to make it clear to the Steward Executives we weren’t backing down. The officials said it was just “easier” to pay members based on their FTE, because how else could they “figure out” what a nurse’s regularly scheduled hours were? We had already sent them an information request, so we replied the information was in their payroll records would have been all they needed to pay their nurses correctly.
Many more months went by with no resolution. An unfair labor practice was filed by ONA when Steward refused to give us the information we needed to represent the nurses. Finally, an arbitration was scheduled, and ONA assigned a second Labor Rep to help with the case so that the other Labor Rep could testify at the arbitration. Finally, on the brink of the arbitration a “settlement in principle” was reached. The parties agreed to work out the details of what each nurse would be paid…but in order to do that, we needed the information that we requested at the beginning of 2019.
The NLRB issued a complaint against Steward because they found merit to ONA’s charge. Finally, the details of what each nurse would be paid was worked out, and Steward agreed to issue checks to ONA for us to distribute within 30 days of the settlement. In classic Steward fashion, they didn’t meet that deadline. It took ONA’s notification to the NLRB and the arbitrator that we were re-opening the case to light a fire under Steward. They sent the checks via overnight delivery to the ONA office.
Justice prevailed for the part-time Northside RNs who refused to back down and who supported each other through this entire ordeal. They were all made whole. Said Jeannie Mulichak to ONA when we announced that the checks were in the mail, “Thank you. I wished all nurses appreciated the value of having the support of a union. I did. And I miss my union.”