Last-ditch talks fail; workers strike St. E's
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Joe and Brenda Nyland's plan for Saturday was simple: drive into Youngstown from their home in Cleveland, visit a couple of friends in the hospital, have dinner, drive home.
First, they stopped by Forum Health Northside Medical Center to visit Brenda's mother, who was recovering from surgery.
Then, they went to St. Elizabeth Health Center, where one of Joe's college friends was recovering from knee surgery.
"This is crazy. We didn't know what was going on at the hospitals here," Joe said Saturday afternoon while standing in the pedestrian walkway to St. Elizabeth's.
"All of these strikes. It's a real mess."
Brenda added: "Not a good time to get sick in Youngstown, huh?"
On strike: Nearly 900 St. Elizabeth's employees, including housekeepers, surgery technicians, health care aides and maintenance and clerical workers, went on strike at 1:30 p.m. Saturday after a last-ditch negotiating effort failed.
It is the first strike in the hospital's 90-year history and the second health care strike to hit the Mahoning Valley in two weeks.
Nearly 780 registered nurses at Forum Health, St. Elizabeth's competitor, walked off their jobs May 1.
No new negotiations are scheduled in either strike.
"St. Elizabeth's will continue to provide compassionate, quality care uninterrupted to its patients," said Molly Seals, senior vice president of human resources for Humility of Mary Health Partners, which operates the hospital.
Chris McCarty, HMHP regional director of communications, said strikers' work will be performed by redeploying nonunion employees to various areas in the hospital and increasing hours of part-time workers. In addition, the hospital has hired an undisclosed number of replacement workers.
"We value all of our employees and know that we can resolve our union differences," Michael T. Rowan, HMHP president and chief executive of Humility of Mary Health Partners, said in a statement.
About 100 striking workers marched in front of the hospital's main entrance Saturday afternoon carrying signs saying "We helped build this house" and "Between a rock and a hard place."
Issues: Chris Colello, president of Teamsters Local 377, said major unresolved issues include wages, health care and vacation time. He said he couldn't speculate on how long the strike would last.
"That's up to the hospital," he said as strikers shouted slogans, passing motorists honked their support and St. Elizabeth's security officers huddled near the main entrance.
"This is a disgrace what they are doing to their employees and the city," said Luigi Farina of Austintown, a maintenance worker for 29 years. "They just want to make more money, and they didn't think we had the guts" to strike.
Seals said the hospital's latest contract offer provided wage increases similar to those for other health care workers in the Mahoning Valley.
"We continue to look forward to reaching an agreement fair to both sides," she said in a statement.
Deadline: The union had set a strike deadline of noon Saturday, and for a while it seemed that a walkout was going to be averted.
At noon, Colello and Ken Norris, the union's business agent, told about 150 workers outside the hospital that St. Elizabeth's had made another contract offer and that the union had agreed to extend the strike deadline until at least Monday evening.
Moments after most of the workers left, however, Colello emerged from the hospital and said the offer was back off the table and the union was giving the hospital a half hour to resolve the misunderstanding.
By 1:30 p.m., the strike was on and workers grabbed signs and began picketing. The confusion only seemed to fuel the fire.
"This union, this negotiating team and these workers will not tolerate lies by this hospital," Colello said.
"Shut it down," yelled Warren Parker of Youngstown, who has worked 10 years in floor care and environmental services at the hospital.
"We don't want the whole pie. All we want are some crumbs."
Workers said a major strike issue is salary caps that have resulted in little or no pay increases for many senior employees for eight or nine years.
"If you work at McDonald's, for crying out loud, you get a raise," said Kathy Naples of Youngstown, a ward clerk in surgical intensive care and a 23-year St. Elizabeth's employee.
"I truly love my job," she added. "This strike for me is a heartbreaker."