The congressman is willing to get involved in the talks, his spokesman said, but only if both sides invite him.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mayor George McKelvey says it's time for Forum Health and its striking nurses to get some help from a proven mediator: Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.
Speaking out for the first time since the walkout began two months ago, McKelvey said he had been silent in hopes that the two sides would be able to work out their own differences.
"When a strike goes this long -- I'll use an analogy -- the patient is in critical condition," he said. "I'm not hearing anything from either side that leads me to believe that an end is near. I'm very concerned."
McKelvey said he has a "gut feeling" that Forum Health could close its doors if the strike by the 771-member Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association drags on much longer, and that would be a major blow to the Mahoning Valley.
Number of jobs: With 3,000 employees and 2,100 spin-off jobs, McKelvey said, Forum is Mahoning County's second largest employer. Its closing would result in a $156 million annual loss to the economy, he said.
"It's reasonable to assume that after a 60-day strike the hospital is having some serious financial problems," he said. "If this strike is not settled at some point, Forum is going to have to close. I don't want it to come close to that."
N. Kristopher Hoce said at a press conference earlier this week that the strike is hurting, but Forum has no plans to close. "There is a financial strain, but it's something that this organization has the wherewithal to address," he said.
McKelvey said he's recommending the two sides seek help from Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, because he has a proven record of success as a contract mediator. The congressman helped to negotiate settlements in the RMI Titanium and Superior Beverage walkouts, among others.
"We're at a point where egos are getting in the way on both sides' leadership teams, in my opinion," the Youngstown mayor said. "Congressman Traficant has a way of having people leave their egos outside. He makes people deal with issues, not egos."
Indictments: McKelvey dismissed any concern that might be raised about Traficant's recent federal indictments on 10 felony charges, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. "I work with the congressman and his staff every day," he said. "The last time I checked, in America a person is still innocent until proven guilty."
Charles Straub, press secretary for Traficant in Washington, D.C., said the congressman has agreed to make himself available as a mediator for Forum and YGDNA, but only if both sides invite him to the bargaining table.
Faxed his proposal: McKelvey's proposal, faxed to the nurses union and Forum administrative offices Friday, suggests that Traficant be asked to mediate if no agreement is reached by July 9.
The mayor also suggests that both parties agree to nonstop bargaining until the strike is settled and that they agree to "fish-bowl" bargaining in which the press and the public can watch the proceedings.
Adds pressure: He said the open bargaining concept has been used between public school officials and their employee unions, and it adds the element of public pressure. "The hospital is a nonprofit organization. Its records are public, so what is there to hide?" he asked.
Evonne Woloshyn, a Forum spokeswoman, said hospital officials appreciate McKelvey's interest and are "weighing" his suggestions, but she would not comment on the specifics. She noted that Hoce called for round-the-clock bargaining at the press conference Wednesday.
Bonnie Lambert, YGDNA president, said she'll discuss the mayor's ideas with her bargaining team. "I'm not sure we feel getting outsiders into negotiations is appropriate at this time," she said.