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MIAMI—-While its members work on the front lines of the Covid-19 public health emergency, the bargaining committee of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East today has rejected layoffs and pay cuts proposed by HCA hospitals across Florida.
The proposed pay and benefits cuts would affect almost 10,000 nurses, technicians and other healthcare workers in the state while they care for and protect patients against the Covid-19 coronavirus and other conditions. 1199SEIU is the largest union of healthcare workers in the state, and represents bargaining unit members at 19 Florida HCA facilities.
Layoffs, staffing cuts and other reductions also hurt the ability to provide high-quality patient care, especially during this historic health crisis, according to 1199SEIU nurses and other healthcare professionals.
HCA is one of the nation’s biggest healthcare companies and reported almost $13 billion in revenue and $581 million in profits during the first quarter of 2020. HCA has received $4 billion in accelerated Medicare payments under the CARES Act and $700 million from the first phase of the public health and social services emergency fund.
HCA operates dozens of hospitals across the state and has faced numerous worker protests regarding safety protocols and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
The union bargaining committee announced its decision after sending a letter to all Florida members stating: “While we are all on the frontlines of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – risking our lives every day to save others – HCA is attempting to use this healthcare crisis to risk you and your family’s financial health by implementing pay cuts and layoffs for its own financial gain. Plain and simple.”
The committee’s letter detailed the following sequence of events: HCA announced to its employees nationwide on May 13 that it would extend the Pandemic Pay Program through June 27. However, the company turned around on May 15 and delivered an ultimatum to its union employees nationwide that it would end the Pandemic Pay Program on May 17, lay off 10 percent of the workforce and eliminate 401(k) employer contributions for 2020, unless union members agreed to significant concessions.
These “takeaways” included workers nationwide receiving no wage increases in 2020 (even those that were previously agreed upon), and the elimination of long-standing weekend/afternoon pay bumps. HCA retracted the cuts to weekend/afternoon differentials when the union bargaining committee pushed back. However, HCA now will not provide a guarantee against layoffs, even if workers agree to other concessions.
“When we asked the company for financial data to justify the concessions, they refused to provide it, saying they are making the demands for “market conditions,” and not financial necessity,” said Dale Ewart, executive vice president and Florida regional director for 1199SEIU. “In other words, HCA wants to profit off the pandemic by laying off healthcare workers during a crisis and cutting their pay and benefits.”
Union member leaders pointed to HCA’s own reporting that highlighted the company’s rich financial standing and billions of dollars in CARES Act relief to prove layoffs and pay cuts are unnecessary. HCA CEO Sam Hazen’s 2019 compensation was $26,778,251, which is 478 times more than the average HCA caregiver.
The company also received a $500 million windfall in 2019 as part of the Trump corporate tax cuts. After publicly pledging to invest the tax savings into employee benefits and training, the company told workers they must give up dental plans and retirement programs to receive the new benefits.
“HCA is an incredibly wealthy company that’s now using the pandemic as an excuse to boost profits at the expense of its workers and patients in an unprecedented time of need,” said Pat Diaz, a nurse at University Hospital in Tamarac and an 1199SEIU bargaining unit member. “We’re committed to provide the best care possible to our patients. We’re already risking our lives every day without proper PPE, and now we’re being asked to make a false choice that will hurt our economic security.”
While awaiting a response from the company, union members are prepared to continue negotiations with HCA hospital management to preserve jobs, pay and benefits.
“Workers in all sectors need to stand together to demand and protect their rights,” said Leora Stirrat, a member of 1199SEIU’s bargaining committee and a certified medication technician/certified nursing assistant (CMT/CNA) at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. “It’s shameful for a company to put profits before people anytime, but especially in such a profound emergency.”
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.