ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — More than a dozen HCA Healthcare registered nurses protested possible layoffs and benefit cuts outside of St. Petersburg General Hospital on Friday. 

What You Need To Know

  • Hospital operators HCA West Florida proposed wage freeze for nurses, which union has rejected

  • Owners insist no layoff, furloughs planned

  • HCA West Florida received $700 million in coronavirus federal aid

  • More Pinellas County stories

"They're threatening to cut us, hours, positions," said Tammy Cihak, a registered nurse at Largo Medical Center. "They're basically saying 'if you don't do this, then we will do this,' and that's disappointing."

Cihak said the nurses have been on the frontlines treating the sickest COVID-19 patients and the payback they're getting for that life-threatening work is a proposed wage freeze, which the union, National Nurses United, would not agree to.

"We said 'no' to that," said Barbara Murray, a registered nurse at St. Petersburg General. "Now they're saying that they're going to either have layoffs or they're going to cut hours, when actually we don't have enough help now."​

National Nurses United said most nurses received a modest raise of between 3 and 4 percent, a benefit that's in their agreed upon contract, which runs through May 2021.

"I guess because they weren't making enough money," said Murray. "They wanted us to give back our shift differentials and forego our raises this year."

HCA Healthcare's West Florida division spokeswoman Debra McKell said there are no plans for layoffs or furloughs.

"At a time when hospitals across the country are struggling to survive... it is surprising and frankly disappointing that unions would demand pay raises for their members," she said in a statement. "And may reject the continuation of a generous pay program."

McKell went on to state that many other HCA employees have agreed to a wage freeze.

"Executive leadership, corporate and division colleagues and hospital CEOs, CFO,s CMOs, CNOs, and COOs have taken pay cuts," she said. "While the union appears to be focused on pay raises for some, our priority is on all our colleagues and their families."

The nurses said they fought hard for 10 years to get their benefits and as frontline employees they should not be asked to give them up.

"For their frontline people, we should be actually getting extra pay for doing this, not wanting us to take back," Murray said. "I think it's terrible that HCA is looking to make profits in a pandemic. I'd like to think if they broke even they should be happy."

HCA operates 15 hospitals along Florida's Gulf Coast and has received $700 million in coronavirus federal aid.

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