By Brian Hall
Preparing for a labor dispute is one of the last things healthcare leaders want to do. However, having a plan for unexpected events is an important aspect of risk management, just like maintaining other types of insurance. Equally important is having an experienced staffing partner who can help you navigate the difficult times.
Workplace Strikes are Surging
According to an article in the Washington Post, there are a number of reasons for this, but ultimately it comes down to how the pandemic has changed the way people see themselves, their employers, and their jobs — especially if going to work heightened their risk of exposure to the deadly virus. So, while millions of people quit or switched positions, others have staged walkouts — or at least are threatening to.
Disputes in pay also are contributing to this problem. According to Boston Business Journal, the workforce shortage puts nurses in a strong bargaining position while negotiating contracts, and nurses are seeing salary bumps closer to 5% per year, compared to the 1% or 2% that was the norm prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, in November 2022, 22,000 Kaiser nurses reached an agreement with a 22.5% increase. This sets the bar very high for upcoming negotiations in places like New York, where over 20,000 nurses had contracts set to expire by the end of last year. Hospitals are still feeling the financial effects of Covid-19, including an estimated net loss of $54 billion in net income in 2021, so meeting the demands for the union wage hikes during upcoming negotiations will continue to be challenging and in some cases not possible, which may lead to more strike activity in 2023.
Unfortunately, labor disputes are expensive. In 2022, when the year-long nurse strike at Tenet’s Saint Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts finally ended, it cost over $40 million to pay for a temporary replacement workforce, which required airfare, hotel costs, ground transportation, and security, in addition to the cost of premium paid replacement nurses who were working a lot of overtime.
Proper Planning and the Right Partner Improve Outcomes
Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate the stress of labor disputes, starting with having an experienced staffing partner who understands how to manage these events by avoiding unnecessary costs and running the job action as efficiently as possible.
That’s where Medical Solutions Strike Staffing comes in. With our 20+ years of experience working with hundreds of healthcare clients experiencing labor actions, we have found those who engage with a specialized strike staffing partner well in advance of a potential strike threat are well equipped to operate business as usual, keep all departments open, maintain census, preserve medical staff relations, and maintain patient satisfaction.
In February 2022, Medical Solutions contracted with a major hospital in Michigan to provide contingency planning. We were charged to be on-call and ready to deploy 1,200 Michigan licensed replacement nurses if negotiations failed, resulting in a strike notice. To make it more challenging, negotiations lasted longer than expected, dragging on through late September. Ultimately, the nursing union ratified a new four-year contract with the hospital and the strike threat was avoided. To assist the hospital with a strong contingency plan, we recruited over 4,000 registered nurses and licensed over 1,850 to ensure that we were well prepared to support the hospital if negotiations failed. In a post-project debrief, the hospital shared that our process provided confidence at the bargaining table because the hospital knew they had coverage in the event of a strike, even with several competing strike threats in other parts of the country and the tight labor supply conditions.
In September 2022, we supported the largest labor action of the year by supplying four health systems in Minnesota with over 400 replacement nurses. While the hospitals were still negotiating with the union, we recruited over 700 replacement nurses for a potential second event in December.
If having a contingency plan is important to your organization, please reach out to Medical Solutions Strike Staffing (formally Nurse Bridge), a leading provider of hospital contingency planning and replacement staffing. Navigating a labor dispute can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Brian Hall is the Vice President of Business Development for Medical Solutions and has over 25 years of experience developing and expanding niche service lines in the healthcare staffing industry, including: Labor Dispute Staffing, Rapid Response Nurse and Allied Travel, and Crisis Staffing Services.