Hospital, Employees Negotiate Wage Increases

Oliver Bok, Staff Writer

After more than two months of contentious negotiation, Mercy Regional Medical Center employers in Lorain reached an agreement this past Friday on a new contract with their union employees. The five-year contract was subsequently ratified unanimously on Monday by the maintenance and service workers represented by the Service Employees International Union District 1199 and employed by Mercy Regional, a hospital run by the Cincinnati-based nonprofit Mercy Health.

“The contract included a two percent wage increase for each year of the contract and allowed them to continue to provide quality services and healthcare to the community,” said Anthony Caldwell, a spokesperson for SEIU District 1199.

At issue in the negotiations was Mercy Health’s failed attempt to cut benefits from SEIU 1199 that the union found unacceptable.

“They wanted to take away earned sick time and replace it with a short term disability program, they wanted to increase out-of-pocket premiums for healthcare workers by $5,000, and they wanted to take away steps in the wage scale that reward employees for the length of service that they have to the community at the hospital. Those were the three big issues,” said Caldwell. According to Caldwell, none of the concessions that Mercy Health sought were included in the final contract.

“Our workers really do just love their jobs and the work they do for the community, so they’re really just concerned that if they had to take these steep concessions, that it would be really hard to keep quality caregivers and support staff at the hospital or bring in new ones,” added Caldwell.

Throughout October, SEIU 1199 took its message outside of the negotiating room and into the broader community.

“It seemed very hypocritical for the CEO and other top [Mercy Health] executives to be paying themselves millions while asking for millions in concessions from workers at their hospital, and so we took that message to the community and asked for people’s support. We had rallies for the Lorain workers in Youngstown, Toledo, Lima, Cincinnati and a variety of other places,” said Caldwell. SEIU 1199 also put out advertisements on radio and social media.

The agreed-upon contract does not affect workers at Mercy Allen Hospital in Oberlin, who are also represented by SEIU 1199 and employed by Mercy Health but operate under a separate contract from workers at Mercy Regional in Lorain.

“We are pleased that both parties could reach an agreement,” said Edwin Oley, president and CEO of Mercy Regional, in a statement. “We believe this contract is fair and just, balances the needs of our skilled maintenance and service workers and hospital for the long term and is in the best interests of our patients and community. … I am proud to offer all employees a competitive benefit package, which ensures Mercy remains a top employer in Lorain County.”

According to the Lorain County Auditor, Mercy Regional is the second largest employer in the county after the Ford factory in Avon Lake.

A spokesperson for Mercy Health declined comment for this article.