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Ohio State nurses protest for more pay and better working conditions

Nurses in the process of negotiating a labor contract with management at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center protested Thursday outside of the hospital to express their dissatisfaction with the terms offered to them, so far.

Rick Lucas, president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization union said the medical center is woefully understaffed, by about 750 positions, so the remaining staff is underpaid and overworked.

“We're out here today because our cries of unsafe staffing and deteriorating working conditions are falling on deaf ears with executive management,” he said.

Lucas said the facility isn’t offering the benefits and environment that will attract and retain quality staff, even as other local hospitals react with better offerings.

“OSU just isn't keeping up with the Columbus market,” he said.

The low-staff conditions are creating an unsafe environment for nurses and patients, Lucas said. Ohio State's nurses have filed 3,000 unsafe situations objects since January 2021, he said.

Wexner Medical Center officials said through a spokesperson Wednesday that negotiators offered a “market-competitive wage proposal that benefits all and will greatly enhance our ability to recruit and retain high-quality nurses.” Lucas said the offer only added “insult to injury.”

“Instead of investing in our nurses to add further insult to injury, the medical center proposed an increase of around .90 cents (per hour raise) for our most experienced nurse,” Lucas said.

Lucas said the medical center also employs temporary travel nurses who are often paid more than double union nurses even though some might be less experienced.

“In addition to failing to address a serious safety concerns, most of which are related to poor staffing conditions, the medical center employs hundreds of travel nurses, a temporary solution," he said.

In a statement released through a spokesperson, the medical center states they “respect our nurses’ right to speak peacefully during personal time, as long as it does not interfere with patient care or impede fellow Ohio State employees from doing their work to serve the community.”

The statement went on to say to the “union’s bargaining tactics are unproductive in reaching our goal of a fair agreement.”

Wexner Medical Center officials also “vigorously” disputes the union’s allegations which “are being made in the context of contract discussions.”

“We remain committed to reaching a fair contract that achieves our many shared goals,” the statement reads.

Lucas said the organization is prioritizing profits and high wages for a few over better conditions for nurses.

“The time is now to invest in nursing, to break the cycle of unsafe staffing and turnover, to put people before profits and choose which side you're on. OSU, show us which side you're on,” Lucas said.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.