Riverside Hospital Nurses Union Hit With $6 Million Penalty For Pandemic Strike

In a significant legal ruling, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 121RN has been ordered to pay Riverside Community Hospital $6.26 million following a 2020 strike deemed unlawful by a federal arbitrator. The 10-day strike, which took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, was found to violate the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

The union initiated the strike to protest unsafe working conditions, citing critical shortages of staff and personal protective equipment (PPE) as hospitals struggled to manage an influx of severely ill patients. The nurses claimed that their actions were a necessary response to the hospital’s failure to protect workers, patients, and the broader community.

Riverside Community Hospital and HCA Healthcare argued that the strike was illegal and detrimental, asserting that the nurses had been informed of this four years earlier. “Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike,” HCA Healthcare stated. “We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

The $6.26 million awarded by the arbitrator is designated to cover the costs of replacing the striking workers. The hospital faced ongoing staffing challenges for months after the strike, to the extent that the National Guard had to provide assistance. Riverside Community Hospital maintained that this staffing crisis was a reflection of a broader national issue.

SEIU 121RN plans to appeal the ruling. The union defended the strike, emphasizing the extraordinary sacrifices made by healthcare workers during the pandemic. “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,” the union stated. “To penalize them for doing so is an affront to the free-speech rights of all workers.”

Union members and their supporters argue that the arbitrator’s decision penalizes healthcare workers for advocating for their safety and that of their patients. They believe that the strike was a crucial step in highlighting the dire conditions within the hospital and pushing for necessary changes.

The appeal by SEIU 121RN will challenge the arbitrator’s decision, seeking to protect the rights of nurses and healthcare workers to speak out against unsafe conditions without facing significant financial penalties. The outcome of this appeal will be closely watched as it could have broader implications for labor rights and the ability of unions to advocate for worker safety during public health crises.