Federal abitrator orders SEIU to pay California hospital over $6 million for illegal 2020 nurses’ strike

A federal arbitrator has ordered SEIU Union 121RN to pay Riverside Community Hospital $6.26 million in damages after an illegal 10-day strike in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic threatened patients’ lives and health.

The union claimed at the time that the strike, which was decried by the hospital, was necessary to “sound the alarm” about what they considered to be unsafe work conditions.

Both the hospital and the arbitrator disagreed. The hospital at the time claimed that it had done all it could to ensure worker safety during the strain the early days of the pandemic put on the entire healthcare system, and the arbitrator agreed, ruling that the strike was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The damage amount was intended to replace the money spent by the hospital to replace the workers who walked out during the strike.

In a statement release by the hospital’s parent corporation, the hospital stated, “Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike. We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

The SEIU indicated that they disagree with the decision and plan to appeal. “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. To penalize them for doing so is an affront to the free-speech rights of all workers.”

Notably, the arbitrator’s decision did not mention any penalty for speaking out about what was happening inside hospital walls. It did, however, mention a penalty for encouraging employees to refuse to show up to work when they were contractually obligated to do so.

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