NURSES STRIKE Mayor backs 'modified' talks process
One union leader said the nurses haven't seen evidence the strike is hurting Forum's financial health.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mayor George McKelvey has another idea for ending the bitter, 74-day nurses strike at three Forum Health medical facilities.
The Youngstown mayor wants Forum and the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association to consider "a modified version" of the collective bargaining process used by government employees in Ohio.
"It's a process that's been used successfully all over the state to resolve contract issues for public sector employees, including nurses, who are not allowed to strike," McKelvey said. "It takes both parties to a settlement with the help of a neutral third party."
Mediation: McKelvey's latest proposal, which he outlined in faxed messages to the hospital and the nurses Thursday, follows his suggestion two weeks ago that the two sides seek the mediation assistance of U.S. Rep. James Traficant Jr. The union opposed that idea; Forum said it would be willing to involve a third party without naming the congressman.
Forum spokeswoman Evonne Woloshyn said hospital officials would postpone commenting on the mayor's newest suggestion until they had more time to study it.
Linda Warino, a member of the YGDNA bargaining team, said the nurses "welcome the mayor's interest and appreciate his concern," but they would like to see him focus less on the process and more on the outcome.
She said the nurses will discuss the collective bargaining option with the federal mediator who has been working with the two sides, but she insisted the talks have been progressing. "We have made headway. Both sides have moved some, and that's what the negotiating process is all about: steady movement forward," she said.
No new talks have been scheduled since a negotiating session broke off a week ago.
McKelvey said he's seen the collective bargaining process work in negotiations with the city's many labor unions, and he thinks it could be the answer to resolving the Forum dispute.
"The federal mediator has no power. In binding arbitration, the conciliator has the power to impose a settlement. That's the big difference."
Strike history: The 771 YGDNA members walked out May 1 and have been picketing since then at Forum Health Northside Medical Center and Tod Children's Hospital, both in Youngstown, and at Beeghly Medical Park in Boardman. Forum's Trumbull County and Austintown medical facilities are not affected.
McKelvey said he and many others in the community are worried the lengthy labor dispute will force Forum to close its Youngstown hospitals, a move which could leave 3,000 Forum employees jobless.
He said he's also received "countless" telephone calls from YGDNA nurses who have urged him to do what he can to get a settlement.
"I'm going to continue to make suggestions, and I'm not closing the door on any proposal. My only motive will always be saving those 3,000 jobs and the $81 million payroll," he said.
"If or when that hospital closes down, nobody will be able to say to Mayor McKelvey: "Why didn't you try to save the hospital?" "
Warino said the nurses agree the community needs Forum's hospitals and would be "very concerned" if the facilities closed.
"However, we haven't seen any evidence of that," she said, arguing that the hospital is spending more money to pay, house and feed replacement nurses from out of state than it would have by approving the union's demands.
"If they were hurting financially, would they be spending money like that?," she asked.
Forum chief executive N. Kristopher Hoce said at a recent press conference that the strike is hurting the company, but "the organization has the wherewithal to address" it.
Rally: In related matter, Carmen S. Conglose Jr., Youngstown's deputy director of public works, said the YGDNA permit request has been approved for a demonstration the union is calling "Rally in the Valley -- Justice for Nurses March," set for 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday. He said the Youngstown Police Department and Parks Department also approved the request.
Jean Troutman-Poole, a union spokesman, said the nurses have invited public officials, labor organizations and other supporters from around the Valley to join them. Susan Bianchi-Sands, president of United American Nurses, the union's parent, and Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, will be featured speakers.
The march will start at the YGDNA headquarters on Gypsy Lane, proceeding by Northside and Tod and ending at nearby Crandall Park on Tod Lane.