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Union leaders said they will try to keep as many members as possible on the picket lines.



Published: Wed, May 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Union leaders said they will try to keep as many members as possible on the picket lines.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Striking registered nurses from Forum Health remained on the picket lines this morning in the second day of their first walkout in 27 years.

Evonne Woloshyn, a Forum spokeswoman, said the night was uneventful and the health-care organization had no plans to seek a court order limiting pickets. No contract talks were scheduled.

The nurses walked out of Northside Medical Center when their contract expired Tuesday afternoon, cheering and shouting their demands for "safer staffing."

Bonnie Lambert, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, said most of the union's 771 members participated in the initial walkout, forming picket lines outside Northside Medical Center, Tod Children's Hospital and the Beeghly emergency and surgery centers in Boardman.

Many came from their homes, she said, and others left work a half-hour into their 3 to 11 p.m. shifts.

Lambert said the union, a unit of the Ohio Nurses Association, plans to keep as many members as possible on the picket lines.

Here are issues: The striking nurses waved hand-lettered signs, many calling for an end to mandatory overtime -- which they say is the key issue in the impasse -- and expressing disdain for the replacement workers Forum bused in to staff the hospital.

Although they say money is not the key issue, union members rejected a 3 percent raise offer, according to Forum. Union documents from last month indicate they want 19 percent.

Forum officials said they had qualified replacement nurses on duty at all four Mahoning County facilities affected by the walkout and that all four facilities would continue operating as usual.

They would not reveal the number of replacement workers hired but said they are fully trained, fully credentialed registered nurses and are licensed in Ohio.

The replacement nurses were provided by an agency, Forum officials said, and come "from all over the country."

"We've heard they hired 270 replacements. How can 250 replace 771, and we're short-staffed and overworked as it is," asked Carol Klingel of Boardman, a nurse at Northside for 30 years. "I think the community should be outraged."

What Forum said: At a press conference organized to explain the decision to continue operating with replacement nurses, Forum officials argued that the company feels an obligation to meet the community's health-care needs.

They said the recent closings of Southside Medical Center, Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital and Warren General Hospital have reduced the number of hospital beds in the region, while admissions and the need for services have remained constant or increased.

"We value the nurses, but patient care must be our first priority," said Dr. Nazim Jaffer, president of the Forum Health professional staff.

"I want the community to know that we support Forum Health's decision to maintain full operations during this work stoppage."

Tod Children's Hospital is the only medical facility for children in the region, said Dr. Robert Felter, Tod medical director, so its services are especially important.

"It's imperative that we remain open, otherwise we would have to send children out of town for care," he said.

Felter defended the quality of the replacement nurses Forum has hired, saying they have the credentials to work in special areas, such as the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. Still, he acknowledged that Tod's regular patients will miss the nurses they know so well.

"We will still have quality care, but we would like to have our own nurses back as soon as possible," he said.

About talks: Lambert said talks broke down Sunday evening, and the YGDNA members overwhelmingly voted to strike after reviewing Forum Health's final proposal at a series of meetings Monday. She said the union leaders are ready and willing to go back to the bargaining table anytime.

"We're waiting for the federal mediator's phone call," she said. "We never did and we never will refuse to go to the table."

Many nurses who stopped picketing to discuss the negotiations said mandatory overtime, which requires nurses to accept overtime or risk being fired, is the key issue.

"I work the 3-to-11 shift, and afternoon turn is hard enough, but then they say I can't go home. I have to do a double," said Carol Smith, a 12-year Northside veteran who works on a medical floor. "I have a daughter at home, but they don't care. If you leave, you are fired. Period."

Sharon Barron, who works with Smith and joined Northside about 31/2 years ago, said the hospital's staffing shortages are largely due to its mandatory overtime policies.

"New hires come in and they say, 'You must be crazy.' Then they quit and go somewhere else," she said.

Woloshyn said the company's last contract proposal contained language that would have eliminated mandatory overtime within three years. Lambert disagreed, saying the company hasn't satisfactorily addressed the problem.

Doctors' plans: Dr. Eugene Butcher, senior vice president of medical affairs for Forum Health, said the company successfully negotiated eight union contracts with employee groups this year, including its nurses at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital.

He said doctors are disappointed that the YGDNA contract could not be resolved without a dispute, but he vowed to keep Forum's Mahoning County facilities operating at full capacity.

Surgeons will continue to maintain regular surgical schedules, said Dr. Earnest Perry, chairman of the department of surgery.

Officials said other Forum employees will be expected to cross the nurses' picket lines to come to work.




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