- More than 300 nurses at independent community hospital Indiana Regional Medical Center (IRMC) in western Pennsylvania launched what was intended to be a one-day strike over benefits and wages Monday morning after nearly a month of working without a collective bargaining agreement. The Indiana Registered Nurses Association (IRNA), which represents the nurses, voted to authorize the strike in late October, a week before its contract with IRMC expired.
- Last week, IRMC warned union nurses they would be barred from work for a week if they struck. The hospital paid $1.5 million for temporary replacement nurses, a contract that will last until the end of the week. IRMC intends to deduct that amount from the hospital's current contract proposal, which nurses are already deeply unhappy with.
- According to a hospital statement, only CRNAs are expected to return to work Tuesday. All other nurses who participated in the strike are barred from returning until next week. The next negotiation between IRMC and IRNA is scheduled for Thursday.
The past year has been a markedly active one for hospital strikes and rallies, especially in California, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Most of that activity has been at large health systems like University of California, Kaiser Permanente, Tenet-owned Detroit Medical Center and UPMC. Reasons for strikes have largely been nurses demanding better nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, though some strikes, most recently in California, have been over unfair wages for hospital staff.
Not many strikes this year have been staged by nurses at independent community hospitals, many of which have been gobbled up by larger health systems as the consolidation trend continues.
This is the first strike in IRMC's 104-year history. There have been 14 bargaining meetings between IRMC and IRNA so far, including two since the contract ran out in October.
The 164-bed community hospital issued its final proposal Nov. 19, a three-year contract that included a 6% wage increase over three years, bringing nurses' hourly wages from $32.10 to $34.06, as well as increases in health plan premium costs that, according to IRNA, could "cause up to 30% cuts in take home pay."
IRNA has called for a four-year contract with pay raises of 3% each year, as well as "reasonable increases" to employee contributions for health insurance.
"At a most difficult time in the history of IRMC, the union leaders led their members to a strike that essentially left us with two choices — close the hospital or figure out a way to continue operating for the community we serve," Nathan Kovalchick, vice chairman of IRMC's board, said in a statement.
In September, Moody's downgraded its outlook for the hospital from stable to negative, citing the facility's size and financial inflexibility as volume declines. The hospital also plans to take on more debt, adding to its current $23.6 million load.
According to IRNA, members will hold informational picketing throughout the week.