On May 6, two thousand unionized nurses, technicians, and support staff at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio began National Nurses’ Week by going on strike after nearly a year of contract negotiations. As of Friday, May 10, management had not presented union leadership with a proposal that meaningfully addressed members’ core concerns, according to UAW Local 2213 president Sue Pratt, and the strike remained ongoing.
Organized labor has deep roots in Toledo: during the Auto-Lite strike of 1934, a militant coalition of ten thousand workers from across the city successfully resisted a violent, five-day strikebreaking effort by management and the state at the cost of two lives and over two hundred. The strike spurred a wave of unionization in the industrial Midwest, and contributed to organized labor’s political ascendancy at the national level.
To this day, Northwest Ohio remains a labor stronghold in relative terms — of the nearly one thousand metropolitan areas where the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks union density, Toledo ranked twenty-fifth overall in 2018. But it hasn’t been spared from the national decline in private-sector union membership: just 8.7 percent of private-sector workers in Toledo were union members in 2018, down from a twenty-first-century peak of 23 percent in 2001.
The Mercy St. Vincent strike has made it clear that Toledo’s private-sector unions aren’t done fighting yet. While it does not match the largest recent private-sector strikes in terms of sheer numbers, the scale of the strike is still remarkable by recent historical standards: on average, fewer than ten private-sector “major strikes” — defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as work stoppages involving more than one thousand workers — have occurred per year over the past decade.
In a city where 17 percent of all private-sector employees work in education and health services, the potential economic and political impact of the strike is even more significant. After its 2018 merger with the Maryland-based Bon Secours Health Systems, Mercy became one of the largest Catholic hospital networks in the country, with $8 billion in net operating revenue and $293 million in operating income.
The members of UAW Locals 2213 and 12 (which represents the hospital’s technicians and support staff) explain their struggle with unity and clarity of purpose. Their red signs on the picket line capture it succinctly: “Patients Over Profits.”
During the strike, local Democratic Socialists of America co-chair Simon Nyi interviewed two rank-and-file members of UAW Locals 2213 and 12 (which represents the hospital’s technicians and support staff) about what’s at stake. Dawn Thakur-Lyon is a UAW Local 2213 registered nurse, and Jessica Crowder is a UAW Local 12 phlebotomist.