THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN
The two sides reached the agreement quietly, without a third party and without the spotlight of the press.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HOWLAND -- Nurses were to vote today on a tentative three-year agreement to end their 80-day strike against Forum Health Northside Medical Center, Tod Children's Hospital and Beeghly Medical Park.
The agreement was announced by Forum Health and the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association in a joint news conference late Thursday after two days of low-profile negotiations at the Holiday Inn Express. No federal mediator or other third party was present. "We did this on our own. We're proud of it," said Bonnie Lambert, union president.
Previous negotiations were announced to the press and the public. No notice was given about the Wednesday and Thursday negotiations until the agreement was reached. The two sides met from 10 a.m. Wednesday until 2:30 a.m. Thursday, resuming negotiations at 11 a.m. and reaching the tentative agreement shortly after 5 p.m.
'Compromise': "Compromise is a way of life in this business, and that's what brought about this agreement. We certainly look forward to returning to normal operations," said Paul W. Carlson, Forum senior vice president.
"We're going to move forward, and there are going to be a lot of changes for both the hospital and our bargaining unit, and that's hopefully going to be all positive," Lambert said of the agreement.
No details of the agreement were being released pending today's union ratification votes, which will be at noon, 4 and 8 p.m. at the Teamsters Hall in Youngstown. The union's negotiating committee is recommending that the membership ratify the agreement, Lambert said.
Once the contract is ratified, picket lines will be removed, and the nurses will return to work within a week, Lambert said. Some 762 registered nurses have been on strike since May 1; nine union members have crossed the picket lines; and Forum Health has hired some 250 strike replacement nurses.
After the tentative agreement was announced, the mood of a dozen pickets at Gypsy Lane and Children's Drive near Tod Children's Hospital was euphoric as the pickets shouted "goodbye" to strike replacement workers leaving the hospital grounds in cars at the end of their shifts.
"I'm just so happy that the negotiating committee and the hospital got together and have finally come back with something that our negotiating committee is saying that we should ratify," said Roseann Williams of Liberty, who was on the picket line with her husband, Eric, who is also a striking nurse.
Well-kept secret: Mrs. Williams, who has been with Forum and its predecessors for more than 28 years, said the talks were a well-kept secret and she knew nothing of them until the agreement was announced. She said she didn't know the details of the agreement, but she believed a compromise on the issue of mandatory overtime clinched the agreement.
Well-publicized talks with the two sides in separate rooms and a federal mediator shuttling back and forth had broken off late Monday at the Holiday Inn in Boardman, with Forum accusing the nurses of walking out and Lambert denying it.
Lambert said Forum's Monday offer was presented on an all-or-none basis, retaining mandatory overtime for 30 months, a period that was unacceptable to the union. Informal, unstructured conversations between people on both sides outside of the negotiations led to the talks resuming Wednesday, Lambert said.
Carlson said an agreement was reached after parts of Forum's offer were "unbundled" and discussed in the negotiations.
Carlson said a major issue Forum still faces is uncertainty about how many of the strikers, who have taken other jobs, will not be returning to Forum. Although Forum suffered "a financial strain" from the strike, he said there was never any danger of Northside's closing had the strike continued.