A group of Summa Health nurses confirmed Wednesday that they are looking to unionize.

The anonymous nurses from Summa released a statement on Facebook in response to a memo that Lanie Ward, Summa senior vice president and chief nursing officer, sent to all nursing staff Tuesday discouraging their unionization.

The nurses posted their statement on the Medic With a Monitor Facebook page, a blog for local medical and emergency professionals.

In the statement, the nurses dispute the claim from Ward’s email, titled “Rumor Control,” that the nurses involved in the unionization effort are primarily from the hospital’s emergency department.

“Nurses all throughout Summa are organizing because we are tired of not having a voice or the ability to represent ourselves,” the statement says.

The talks of unionization come at a contentious time between leadership and the nursing staff, sparked by an abrupt change in emergency room physician staffing at the beginning of this year.

That led to a series of changes in the emergency unit of the health system, including the suspension of Summa’s ability to train emergency medicine residents.

The statement from the nurses, though, cites several issues across the entire hospital system, including that they call “unfair and unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios,” long hours worked without breaks and wages below fair market value.

Efforts to reach the Summa nurses on Wednesday through the Medical With Monitor Facebook page were unsuccessful. It is unknown how many nurses are involved in the unionization effort, but Summa has about 1,800 registered nurses that could be affected if they unionize.

Position reiterated

Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein did not respond to the nurses’ statement Wednesday beyond reiterating his comments from Tuesday, saying the hospital system wants to inform nurses about what unionization could mean for the individuals and the larger group.

The nurses said they’ve been working with the Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) to learn how to represent themselves collectively. ONA has a nursing union arm called the Ohio Nurses Collective Bargaining Program (CBP), which is in 27 facilities across the state.

The deputy executive officer of labor relations for ONA was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

One of the places with an ONA union unit is Cleveland Clinic Akron General, where staff nurses make, on average, more than $2 an hour more than nurses at Summa, according to the statement from the anonymous Summa nurses.

Ward’s memo cites several reasons for her discouraging unionization, among them being that direct communication between management and nursing staff would be hindered; unions couldn’t promise better conditions to members; strikes, which are made possible by unions, would be harmful to the hospital; union cards could be misrepresented; some employees may not be represented by the union; and union dues could lead to decreased net pay.

Statements rebutted

The statement released by the nurses responded to each of Ward’s points, rebutting most of them.

“Direct Communication will NOT be hindered. When a union is established managers will still be able to communicate with us,” the nurses’ statement says. “Management and administration should choose to promptly and effectively communicate with nursing staff whether or not we are organized collectively, a union will not inhibit this, but will encourage it.”

Portions of the nurses’ statement address Ward directly.

“Ms. Ward you are right, everything is negotiable or at least should be, but currently we have No ability to negotiate with Summa. There are no nurses that are sitting down at the table with you to negotiate on our behalf. Summa continues to make decisions for us that are unsafe for nursing and patients,” the statement says.

In the statement, the nurses agree with Ward that strikes are harmful, but they say they would have other, less harmful ways to effectively negotiate as part of a union.

The statement also says the nurses’ interests would be represented collectively, since the nurses have the ability to elect representatives, and union dues “provide valuable resources.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom .