HCA tells nurses union to give up bargained wage increases — or face layoffs

Dive Brief: 

  • Nashville-based HCA is disputing with the country’s largest nurses union over contractually bargained wage increases the hospital says it can’t deliver due to pandemic-related financial strains.
  • National Nurses United, which represents 150,000 nurses across the country and 10,000 nurses at HCA, says hospital executives are threatening layoffs, elimination of employer contributions to nurses’ 401k retirement plans, wage freezes and pay cuts for nurses who work weekends and evenings if they do not give up the wage increases​.
  • But HCA wants the union to forgo its demand for wage increases this year just as nonunion employees have, a spokesperson for the system told Healthcare Dive, noting HCA executive leadership, corporate and division employees and hospital executives have also taken pay cuts.

Dive Insight:

The scuffle between the biggest for-profit health system and the NNU comes amid a challenging time for many hospitals and healthcare workers. Hospitals are seeing margins shrink and reporting billions in losses due to the coronavirus and its economic effects.

HCA, with 184 hospitals across the country and 280,000 employees, is one of just a few large hospital chains that’s been able to avoid layoffs amid pandemic-related financial strains.

The system told Healthcare Dive it found it “surprising and frankly disappointing” that the union is continuing to ask for pay raises for its members at a time when many hospitals are struggling to survive. HCA also highlighted a pandemic pay program it termed “generous,” wherein some 100,000 employees with reduced hours can receive seven weeks paid time off at 70% their base pay until June 27.

But NNU said that has nothing to do with the wage increases they won in past negotiations, arguing the hospital chain could easily deliver on the promise.

Though the for-profit chain’s net income was down almost 45% year over year in the first quarter of 2020 due to low patient volumes, HCA did manage a profit of $581 million, and had more than $1.4 billion in cash flow from operations.

Additionally, the operator received $700 million in grants from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act along with $4 billion in accelerated Medicare payments, which the union said further solidified HCA’s financial footing.

On Thursday, nurses protested the threat of layoffs and aired other grievances at HCA’s Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California, including the planned closure of the hospital’s maternal-child health program by the end of this month. Losing the program would have a devastating impact on East San Jose women and families, NNU says.

HCA doesn’t need to be demanding “massive cuts which will have a deleterious impact on patient safety” though potential layoffs like it’s pushing at the regional medical center in San Jose, or through reduced nurse pay that could harm their economic security, NNU told Healthcare Dive in a statement.

Registered nurses at 15 hospitals in six states — California, Florida, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada and Texas — plan to protest HCA’s threatened layoffs and pay cuts Thursday and Friday.