Facing the looming prospect of a nurses strike, Rochester General Hospital made a last-ditch plea late last week, asking the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals to put walkout plans on hold for three months.
The union refused.
The union, which represents roughly 900 nurses, plans the two-day walkout to begin Aug. 3 at 7 a.m.
Hospital officials detailed RGH’s offer of stepped-up negotiations to the union in an unsigned message emailed to employees July 28. In the message, the hospital calls RUNAP’s refusal “extremely disappointing.” The union was given a 9 a.m. July 28 deadline to respond to the hospital’s offer, the message states.
In a letter to the community Sunday, Rochester Regional Health officials assured residents that if a strike occurs, RGH will maintain regular business hours. The system is working with a national agency to hire “hundreds of replacement nurses” who have been screened, selected, and trained on RGH’s systems and protocols, it reads. The letter was signed by RRH CEO Chip Davis and Tammy Snyder, president and chief operating officer at RGH.
Though it has not agreed to call off the strike, RUNAP has agreed to a last-minute bargaining session on Aug. 2, says union organizer Nate Miller. The union is not much impressed by the hospital’s late-coming offer, however, he adds.
“They should have been doing this 10 months ago,” the organizer contends.
RGH has known for two months that RUNAP was circulating a strike petition, Miller says. And, he adds, when the union gave the hospital a 12-day advance notice of its intention to strike, RGH officials at first said the need to prepare for a walkout would keep them too busy to engage in last-minute bargaining.
RUNAP bargaining committee member Nate Ontiveros calls the hospital’s latest move—tying the offer to set up an expedited bargaining schedule to a three-month strike moratorium—“sadly symbolic of the ways in which nurses are being asked to sacrifice.” He asks: “With so little to show after a year of negotiation, what more could we hope to gain with just a few more (bargaining sessions)?”
RUNAP formed in July 2022. The first contract talks between the union and the hospital did not start until October.
While RRH and RGH officials maintain that the hospital has bargained in good faith, union officials disagree. RGH has not budged on staffing and salary, issues the union sees as key to any agreement; it has only offered a revised dress code.
“It’s always up to the union on whether or not they strike and they could still decide to cancel any time before the strike is set to begin. By that point, we would have incurred the vast majority of the millions of dollars it would cost us to prepare for a strike,” the hospital’s email states.
The email adds: “RRH began to incur substantial costs to recruit replacement nurses so we can adequately care for our community. These are expenses that now cannot be used to invest in our employees, our facilities or our community.”
In the runup to the looming strike, the hospital has already racked up “several million dollars” in strike-related expenses, the message states.
A recent recruiting call put out by Cross Country Nurses, a staffing agency supplying temps known as travel nurses to hospitals, promises “all past working Rochester General RNs” weekly pay of $2,600 to $2,900 to work in RGH units.
Despite its scramble to find adequate replacements to keep RGH staffed during the nurse walkout, the hospital claims the strike’s support among RUNAP members is thin.
“Some of the content in their recent public communications, suggests they don’t have broad support for a strike,” the July 28 email contends. “In fact, barely half of the RUNAP-represented nurses voted in favor of a strike. And this aligns with what we have been hearing, which is that a large and growing number of nurses do not plan to strike.”
The hospital’s claim is misleading, Miller counters. In the initial strike poll, more than 60 percent—552 of the union’s nearly 900 members—cast ballots. Only 50 voted no.
The vote was held offsite, requiring members to make a special trip to cast votes. Had it been held in a more convenient location, more would have cast ballots. And had participation been higher, the percentage of yeas to nays would have been similar, Miller believes.
More than 90 percent of RUNAP members have signed on to a separate petition agreeing to strike, the organizer adds. If RGH officials are counting on low RUNAP participation in the walkout, he predicts, “they will be sorely disappointed.”
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].