Geneva nurses file a complaint to be excluded from the ‘appreciation bonus’
GENEVA, Ohio — Union nurses at Geneva University Hospitals say the hospital system deliberately excluded them from receiving a premium for their work during the pandemic.
The union representing nurses, the collective bargaining arm of the Ohio Nurses Association, filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board against UH, alleging discrimination and unfair labor practices.
The question is whether unionized nurses at UH Geneva are eligible for the appreciation bonus. According to a statement from a UH spokesperson, the remuneration of nurses at UH Geneva is dictated by the collective agreement. However, the nurses claim the contract allows bonuses at the discretion of HU. The nurses also say they received a $150 bonus in gift cards in the form of 30,000 UH Appreciates points, an internal rewards system offered by the hospital system. UH Appreciates points were also included in the total of $1,250 in bonuses offered to regular-status employees.
In a Dec. 10 letter, UH CEO Cliff Megerian acknowledged the difficult, stressful, and exhausting work being done by UH nurses and staff throughout the pandemic. As a result of “deep gratitude and in celebration of [their] service,” Megerian announced that caregivers and team members “other than managers and above and physicians” would receive UH Appreciates points. In addition, “eligible regular-status caregivers” will also receive a $500 appreciation bonus for their performance in 2021.
Less than two weeks later, Megerian issued a follow-up letter, stating that additional COVID relief funds from the federal government were going to be used to provide an additional $750 bonus, bringing the total bonus amount to $1,250.
“We are pleased to announce that all regular-status employees, including our residents-in-training, other than managers and physicians, will receive another appreciation bonus for 2021 in the amount of $750,” the company said. letter from Megerian of December 21.
UH Geneva nurses Heather Abate, Katie Lewis and Jen Hughes said the $1,250 bonus they thought they’d receive had provided them with an instant morale boost, especially after an extremely tenuous year, which led to an increase of the number of COVID patients thanks to the delta and, later, the omicron variants.
“I think as [group] we understand that you do not go through alone, whether you have COVID or have had an accident. We have been to these rooms. We prepared and sat with these patients until they breathed their last. We held their hands to make sure they didn’t die alone,” Lewis said. “There was a certain joy in understanding that the senior management – who were not on the front line – understood that there was a mental aspect to this. A “thank you” would be appreciated. Everyone was all the happier. They appreciate what I do. There was more momentum in your step.
This “spring in their step” turned into a clean stop four months later. Megerian’s April 5 letter suddenly excluded unionized employees from bonus eligibility. The letter so suddenly included physicians as eligible.
“In appreciation for your dedication to service, we announced late last year that UH would award appreciation bonuses to our regular-status caregivers, other than managers and unionized employees, but including doctors and residents in training,” Megerian said April 5. letter states.
The nurses at UH Geneva, who are the only unionized nurses in the UH system, felt cheated.
“We did everything during this first year and a half, being the only ones authorized in the room. To then receive this email that says, ‘Well, you’ve done all the work but now you’re not worthy enough for this’, that was very disrespectful and a lot of us were extremely hurt by it,” said Heather Abate, a HU Geneva nurse of nearly 6 years.
Jen Hughes, a nurse at UH Geneva for five years, said the sudden exclusion from eligibility for the $1,250 bonus was extremely discouraging.
“I think the last two years have really taken their toll on an already short system,” Hughes said. “It was a blow to your belly knowing how much we did and the extra shifts we took.”
Nurses from UH Geneva then met with UH leaders to discuss their exclusion from entitlement to the bonus. The reunion left them even angrier, they said.
“I think what hurt the most was their quote: ‘It was a conscious decision [to exclude unionized nurses]Lewis said. “Talk about a kick in the stomach. For some reason, doctors are worthy of the money, but we’re not? Even though we were the only ones allowed in the room and we had to do everything for the first year and a half?”
In a statement, a UH spokesperson reiterated the hospital system’s position that union nurses are not eligible for appreciation pay because of the collective bargaining agreement.
“University Hospitals appreciates all of our caregivers who have met the health care needs of our patients and communities in Northeast Ohio throughout the tragic and demanding two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late last year, UH announced appreciation bonuses for 2021 in the amount of $1,250 for eligible employees who were in regular status positions as of December 31, 2021 and who remain employed through premium payment date later in April. The awards are a well-deserved recognition of service beyond expectations during this extraordinary time.
Managers and seniors, unionized employees and those who do not comply with the CMS COVID-19 vaccination mandate are not eligible for bonuses.
The remuneration of nurses at UH Geneva Medical Center, who are the only unionized nurses in our health system, is dictated by the collective agreement.
After additional procedural conversations required by the collective agreement, the collective bargaining arm of the Ohio Nurses Association filed grievances against UH with the National Labor Relations Board.
Nurses also collected signatures from all 47 nurses and nearly 650 non-union hospital workers and community members.
Hughes hopes that in the end, UH will truly show their appreciation through actions – not just words.
“Due to a nationwide shortage of nurses right now, now is not the time to consciously make these kinds of decisions that could ultimately affect our communities,” Hughes said.