Asheville Mission nurse strike? Union: HCA strikes brewing in NC, Florida, Texas, more (2024)

Joel BurgessAsheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - A potential nurse strike at Mission Hospital would likely be accompanied by strikes at multiple other hospitals, all owned by the nation's largest health system HCA HealthCare, a member of the nurses' bargaining team has said.

Nurses at Mission said they are preparing for a strike after negotiations with management failed to reach an agreement by the July 2 expiration of their three-year contract. Disagreements persist over pay, staffing and guaranteed meal and bathroom breaks, nurses said.

"We think that you should also know that because we are negotiating 17 different contracts with various HCA hospitals in various states that include North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, there's a potential for multi-hospital strikes that I would say that are likely. So, we won't be going on strike alone," said nurse and union bargaining unit member Mark Klein in a video posted to the local union's Facebook page.

A spokesperson for Mission HCA declined to comment on the possibility of multi-state strikes or what impact it would have on HCA. The Tennessee-based corporation bought the formerly nonprofit Mission for $1.5 billion in 2019, with nurses unionizing a year later.

Last year, 2,400 nurses at HCA hospitals went on strike in California, citing workplace violence and low staffing, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

The Citizen Times reached out to Klein through National Nurses United, but a spokesperson for the California-based union said he was unavailable. Another bargaining unit member, Kelly Coward, spoke to the Citizen Times July 3 and said while contracts at multiple HCA hospitals were being negotiated, nothing was "set in stone" in terms of a strike.

Still, Mission nurses are being told to pick up extra shifts to prepare for unpaid strike time, Coward said.

"We've been telling people to go ahead and maybe work an extra day now in the next couple of weeks and put that money aside to prepare for a strike," Coward said.

While nurses say they would only strike one day, Coward acknowledged the hospital could shut them out for longer.

Strike pledges are also being circulated as a preview to a potential strike authorization vote, Klein said in the video.

"In other hospitals where a majority of nurses sign these strike pledges it's a very powerful escalation on our part, that makes HCA take pause, or at least take us seriously, because they know a strike is possible," he said.

Nurse rallies

On June 5, Mission nurses held a rally to highlight their demands. Similar rallies occurred at Florida HCA facilities, according to releases from the union, with Orlando area nurses rallying on June 26 and those in the western city of Largo holding a demonstration July 2.

Demands were similar, with the Florida nurses protesting what they said were missed meal and rest breaks and short staffing.

“When nurses are outside, there’s a problem inside,” HCA Florida Largo Hospital nurse Keosha Morris said in one of the union releases. "We stand together to exercise our contract rights against this greedy corporation.”

At Mission, without a new agreement, nurses continue to work under the conditions of the expired contract. Negotiations are set to continue with the next bargaining meeting scheduled for July 16.

But the bargaining unit could call for a strike vote, with participation from the 1,600 nurses represented by the union negotiators. If nurses authorize a strike through the vote, the union must give 10 days' notice to the hospital by federal law.

"If the NNU leadership does choose to strike, Mission Hospital will remain open," Nancy Lindell, Mission/HCA spokesperson told the Citizen Times July 3, adding the hospital has already taken measures to contract with strike nurses.

"Our commitment to exceptional patient care and safety will not be compromised as the region's destination for advanced clinical services," Lindell said.

Differing accounts on pay raises

With pay, each side has accused the other of misrepresenting positions. Klein and Coward said HCA offered a 3.5% pay raise over three years, an amount they said would not keep up with inflation. But Lindell, the Mission/HCA spokesperson said that many nurses would receive total increases of between 11.5% and 12.5%.

"It is disappointing, but not surprising, that they are intentionally misrepresenting our proposal to serve their own interests," Lindell said. "We would be disappointed in National Nurses United leadership if they made the decision to strike. It is absolutely unnecessary, given the serious efforts we have invested in bargaining since mid-April."

Coward said she "did not know" where Lindell was getting her numbers.

"Our goal with the wage part is to attract new nurses to come and want to work at Mission and to stay there. It is expensive to live in Asheville, so 3.5% is not enough to do that," she said, noting that there were 400 vacancies.

Issues on which the parties have agreed or are close to agreeing are restricting the use of artificial intelligence so as not to replace nurses, and improving measures to reduce violence against nurses and patients, Coward said.

The potential strike comes after Mission was sanctioned over what state and federal regulators said were deficiencies in staffing and other areas that led to patient deaths.

More: New NC rules for 'unregulated' Mission/HCA health care monopoly? Lawmaker: explore options

Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess atjburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter@AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with asubscriptionto the Citizen Times.

Asheville Mission nurse strike? Union: HCA strikes brewing in NC, Florida, Texas, more (2024)

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