By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Cheryl Kelty admits it. The 27-year Forum Health veteran says the rigors of walking the picket line and living without a paycheck are starting to get to her.
"After 60 days, it's really very grueling," the striking nurse from the newborn intensive care unit said with a tired sigh.
But Kelty and other striking Forum Health nurses attending an informational meeting at their union headquarters Thursday said their resolve and their support for the union leadership remain strong, even as the walkout approaches its two-month anniversary.
"It's not going well at all," said Shirley Murckson, a medical intensive care nurse and 14-year Forum employee, "but I think we're all behind our leadership. Only five members have crossed the picket line out of 771. What does that say? It shows that we're united. We're not giving up."
Susan Savastuk, a 20-year Forum veteran who works in the oncology department at Northside Medical Center, said other nurses she's talked with believe negotiations have made little progress, but they're not ready to quit.
"I think the hospital wants us out here. They don't want to settle the strike," she said. "But we've agreed we're not going to budge. No more concessions. The members are strongly behind the union."
Here's the latest: Leaders of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association scheduled a series of closed-door membership briefing sessions Thursday afternoon and evening, a day after N. Kristopher Hoce, Forum Health president and chief executive, had a press conference criticizing the nurses for rejecting a hospital offer.
Hoce had said he decided to break a long-standing silence on the issues when nurse negotiators refused to accept a proposal the hospital believes would virtually eliminate mandatory overtime, the issue nurses call the main sticking point in their contract dispute.
A YGDNA spokeswoman said the union likes some aspects of the mandatory overtime proposal but wants more specific guidelines added to assure that it will be enforced.
Savastuk argued that the hospital failed to reveal all of its proposal at Hoce's press conference.
Although the CEO listed four alternatives to mandatory overtime, she said, he failed to mention that mandatory overtime would remain under the proposal as a last alternative.
"Mandatory overtime is still there," she said. "If that has to be, then we'd like to see some financial incentives to make it less painful for people when they do have to work it."
Rosalie Nemeth, a nurse in the Beeghly Medical Center pediatric clinic and a Forum employee for 36 years, said the hospital is telling "half-truths" to gain public support for its side.
"What they showed to the public was totally different from what they showed at the bargaining table," she said. "What they don't say is that it's part of a package. They tell us to take it all or leave it."
Other comments: Kelty cited two Minneapolis nursing unions who settled contracts recently, eliminating mandatory overtime and achieving salary increases of 18 percent and 20 percent over three years.
"It can be done," she said, noting that YGDNA is only asking for 3-percent more in each of three years.
Anna Beckett, a nurse in Forum's breast health center who has 30 years with the company, said management would have more success recruiting new nurses if it would agree to the union's proposals for measures improving working conditions for its nurses.
"If they want to attract the best and the brightest, they've got to make things better for their nurses," she said.
Savastuk said many nurses have taken temporary jobs elsewhere because of the strike, and some are considering a permanent move.
"The way things are going, they'll have an even worse nursing shortage when we go back because so many people will have left," she said. "They're cutting off their nose to spite their face."