Labor union ordered to pay $6M+ to California HCA hospital

Service Employees International Union 121RN was ordered May 31 by a Los Angeles-based federal arbitrator to pay Riverside (Calif.) Community Hospital, part of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, $6.26 million in damages for holding an "unlawful strike" in June 2020. 

The union was found liable in a May 2023 decision for a 10-day strike that, under the collective bargaining agreement, "deprived the hospital of the rights it was due," according to a June 12 Riverside Community Hospital news release shared with Becker's.

Collective bargaining agreements spell out the terms for when unions are allowed to strike. 

The recent ruling found SEIU 121RN liable for holding a strike in disregard of its collective bargaining agreement terms. "There is no intellectually honest way to escape the conclusion that the strike scenario in this case seriously violated the CBA, deprived RCH of the bargain the Union made with RCH, and subjected RCH to a strike the Union did not have the right to execute under the CBA," the arbitrator's ruling said, according to the release. 

The awarded damages will cover the cost of replacing employees who left their job during the strike, regardless of hospital leadership warnings that it would violate CBA terms.  

Rosanna Mendez, executive director for SEIU local 121RN, told Becker's that the union is working to use every legal option available to ensure that the decision is reversed. 

Ms. Mendez said the June 2020 strike was based solely around understaffing at Riverside Community Hospital, an issue that nurses at the hospital have continued to shed light on for years. 

"Because they [the nurses] were asked by reporters about the PPE situation during a global pandemic, and nurses responded about the situation related to PPE, they were dinged for that," Ms. Mendez said. 

Although the strike was about staffing, which was permissible under the nurses contracts', Ms. Mendez said that because the discussion expanded to PPE during the strike, the arbitrator found that not permissible. 

"...They have free speech rights. All workers do, to talk about health and safety conditions, and that is protected under Federal OSHA and Cal OSHA," Ms. Mendez said. "For an arbitrator to award so much money out of the pockets of nurses to a multibillion-dollar corporation for speaking about the lack of PPE during a global pandemic, while they were on strike for understaffing is just completely unconscionable."

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