Union workers at HCA Florida hospitals vote for overtime ban

1199SEIU Florida hopes a five-day halt on voluntary overtime will force the company to address what it sees as staffing shortages at 19 Florida hospitals.
Members of 1199SEIU Florida, which represents more than 10,000 health care workers at 19 HCA hospitals across the state, voted overwhelmingly for the action.
Members of 1199SEIU Florida, which represents more than 10,000 health care workers at 19 HCA hospitals across the state, voted overwhelmingly for the action.
Published May 31|Updated May 31

Workers at 19 hospitals represented by the largest health care union in Florida have voted to refuse to work voluntary overtime at facilities run by HCA Healthcare for a five-day period beginning Friday.

Members of 1199SEIU Florida, which represents more than 10,000 health care workers at 19 HCA hospitals across the state, voted overwhelmingly for the action, said executive vice president Roxey Nelson.

The move comes as the union is in the third month of bargaining with HCA, which operates 182 hospitals across the United States including about 50 in Florida.

Nelson said the action is to force the company to improve staffing and retention in Florida hospitals. A study by the union’s parent organization released in December found that staffing levels at HCA hospitals in Florida were 32% below the average of other hospitals across the state.

The company’s hospitals get by only by burdening existing staff to work additional hours and higher patient loads, Nelson said. The union’s members included nurses, respiratory therapists, certified nursing assistants and imaging department technicians.

“On-call and overtime are for emergency situations you cannot predict,” said Nelson. “If you’re using them all the time, it’s not an emergency — it’s a failure of management.”

In a statement released to the Tampa Bay Times, HCA officials said their staffing levels are safe and appropriate and they do not expect the union action to impact patient care or access to their hospitals and clinics.

“This is a bargaining tactic, which is part of this labor union’s normal actions during collective bargaining,” said Debra Burbridge, regional vice president of communications for HCA Florida “During negotiations, which happen every three years, our goal is the same: to secure a fair agreement that continues to support a culture of colleague safety, care excellence and compassion.

The union has also filed a complaint against HCA with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of not complying with requests for information the union needs to bargain including the number of agency employees HCA is using on a monthly basis and a list of non-union employees carrying out duties normally done by its members.

The complaint lists all 19 hospitals where the union represents workers including HCA facilities in Largo, St. Petersburg and Trinity.

Related: Pasco hospital intimidated workers who discussed unionizing, feds say

The union study accused the Nashville-based health care corporation of risking patient safety in order to pay billions in dividends to shareholders. The country’s largest health system, HCA in 2021 reported earning $58.7 billion in revenue with profits of about $7 billion.

It listed several federal reports where reviews by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare found that employees had inadequate training or too high a patient load.

Congressional lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Gus Bilirakis in March sent a letter to the chief executive officer of HCA Florida Bayonet Point Hospital in Pasco County, demanding to know what the company was doing to fix problems there.

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The letter cited an NBC news report that found doctors and other medical staff at the Hudson facility had reported safety concerns to management for more than a year. Those problems included cockroaches in operating rooms, unsanitary surgical instruments, inadequate monitoring of intensive care patients and people waking up during surgery. Bayonet Point workers are not represented by the 1199SEIU.

Nelson said HCA has offered workers in California and New York raises of up to 15% over 3 years but is refusing to make the same offer to those in Florida. She said it’s up to HCA management to ensure service to patients is not disrupted.

“We’ve given them notice this will happen so it’s their responsibility to make sure the the hospitals are staffed,” she said.