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HOSPITAL STRIKES Pickets, guards clash at St. E's



Published: Tue, May 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Striking workers say they want the faith-based hospital to practice what it preaches.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

YOUNGSTOWN -- Teamsters Local 377 President Chris Collelo said the union was planning to file charges against two or more police officers of Humility of Mary Health Partners after a violent confrontation on the picket line this morning.

More than 850 HMHP maintenance and service workers are in their fourth day of a walkout at St. Elizabeth Health Center and several other of the company's health-care facilities after contract talks broke down Saturday.

Union officials said one union member was injured, another was threatened with a weapon and several were sprayed with pepper spray in the confrontation with hospital police.

Both sides: Hospital officials acknowledged there was a scuffle and said the matter is being investigated. A hospital spokeswoman said a hospital police officer was hit and officers arrested a worker. She said the officer was injured and was being treated this morning.

Richard Hollis, an incinerator operator at St. Elizabeth's for 14 years, said a hospital security guard pointed a gun at his head and sprayed him and several other strikers with pepper spray.

He said the workers were "walking peacefully" across a truck entrance off Lexington Street, but a confrontation started when the guards locked arms and began pushing the pickets.

Another worker, Debi Brush, a 15-year veteran of the environmental department, said a guard sprayed her, Hollis and several others with pepper spray. When Hollis tried to run, she said, the guard pursued him, grabbed him and pointed a gun at his head.

"I stepped between them and he hesitated," she said. "I don't know why I did it. It's the maternal side of me, I guess."

Two other striking workers, brothers Bob and Bill Lovell, said another worker was injured when guards knocked him to the ground to handcuff him. They said the worker was taken to Mahoning County Jail.

Accusation: Meanwhile, pickets said Monday they want the faith-affiliated hospital to "practice what it preaches."

Longtime employee Patricia Pack said hospital officials are hypocritical to tell workers to treat patients with compassion and sensitivity when they do not take that approach with employees.

"The saint went out of St. Elizabeth's long ago," said Pack, 39, a health-care associate.

Pack said she has seen treatment of employees progressively decline since the nuns who ran the hospital's day-to-day operations turned those duties over to lay people. The first lay administrator at the hospital was hired in 1993. St. Elizabeth is part of the Humility of Mary Health Partners system.

Joanne Lukehart, 49, said, "The sisters never would have stood for this."

Erin O'Driscoll, 28, said she wishes management lived up to the mission statement about compassion that it virtually makes new employees memorize.

"If they really stood for what they say, we would not be out here," said O'Driscoll. "The hospital should practice what it preaches."

About 900 employees -- including housekeepers, surgery technicians, health-care aides, maintenance workers and clerical personnel -- went on strike Saturday after last-ditch contract talks failed.

Among the issues Teamsters Local 377 are concerned about are wages, vacation time and health-care benefits.

This is the hospital's first strike in its 90 years of existence, though the union first formed in 1998. It also marks the second health-care strike in the Mahoning Valley in two weeks. A total of 771 nurses at Forum Health have been on strike since May 1.

Here's the scene: Hundreds of striking employees lined sidewalks around St. Elizabeth's grounds Monday carrying picket signs, singing pro-labor songs and encouraging passing cars to honk their horns in support.

"Their only mission is money," read one sign.

Amanda Holt, 21, said her sign says it all: "Molly Steals," as in Molly Seals, vice president of human resources.

O'Driscoll said the hospital's harsh attitude has carried through to the picketing. Security guards were positioned all over the grounds and at its adjacent parking garage.

The pickets have heard that patient care and service have suffered inside the hospital, but Chris McCarty, a hospital spokesman, said patient care has not suffered.

"Employees have been redeployed and other steps have been taken," McCarty said. "Everything is going well."

Hospital's side: McCarty said because the hospital is faith-based, it is concerned about the workers -- but it is concerned about all of its workers.

"We seek to provide our unionized employees -- just as our nonunionized employees -- a fair wage and benefits package while preserving the future stability of our organization and the job security of all employees," the hospital's statement read.

No new talks have been scheduled between the hospital and the union.

Forum Health strike: Meanwhile, another strike by registered nurses at HMHP's competitor, Forum Health, continues today at Northside and Tod Children's Hospitals and Beeghly Medical Park in Boardman.

No new talks were scheduled for the 771 striking members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association.




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