Nurses Union Ordered To Pay Over $6 Million For 2020 Strike At Riverside Hospital

A federal arbitrator has ruled that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 121RN must pay Riverside Community Hospital $6.26 million for damages incurred during a 2020 strike. The arbitrator deemed the 10-day strike unlawful, citing violations of the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

The strike, which occurred three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, was initiated by nurses who claimed that the hospital’s practices were endangering workers, patients, and the community. They reported severe staffing shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), while hospital floors were overwhelmed with critically ill patients.

The hospital, however, argued that the pandemic strained all healthcare facilities and that nurses had been informed four years prior that the strike was illegal. HCA Healthcare, which operates Riverside Community Hospital, released a statement supporting the arbitrator’s decision: “Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike. We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

The arbitrator’s ruling emphasized that the strike violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement. The awarded $6.26 million is intended to cover the costs incurred by the hospital to replace the striking workers. Despite the ruling, SEIU 121RN announced plans to appeal, defending the nurses’ actions during the early pandemic stages.

In a statement, SEIU 121RN highlighted the sacrifices made by healthcare workers: “Healthcare workers made enormous sacrifices to keep their communities safe during the pandemic—including overcoming their fears of retaliation for telling the truth about what was happening inside the hospital walls. To penalize them for doing so is an affront to the free-speech rights of all workers.”

The hospital faced significant challenges following the strike, remaining critically understaffed for months. The situation became so dire that the National Guard was deployed to assist. The hospital maintained that this staffing crisis was a nationwide issue, not unique to Riverside Community Hospital.

Union members and supporters argue that penalizing nurses for advocating for safer working conditions undermines their heroic efforts during the pandemic. They believe that the strike was a necessary measure to draw attention to the unsafe conditions and inadequate protections provided by the hospital during a public health crisis.

The appeal by SEIU 121RN will seek to overturn the arbitrator’s decision, aiming to protect the rights of healthcare workers to speak out against unsafe working conditions without fear of severe financial repercussions.