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HOSPITAL STRIKES Pickets to St. E's: Show faith



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



Treatment of employees has declined since oversight of the faith-based hospital's day-to-day operations was assumed by lay people, a worker said.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

YOUNGSTOWN -- Striking workers at St. Elizabeth Health Center say 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 Driscoll. "The hospital should practice what it preaches."

What happened: 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.

Hundreds of striking employees lined sidewalks around St. Elizabeth's campus 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.

Here's the scene: 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.

Plastic has been put up over the pedestrian bridge from the garage to the hospital to prevent pickets from seeing replacement workers come in, O'Driscoll said.

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.

"We are pleased and sincerely thank all the employees who have made our patients the priority and who continue to come to work to provide our patients with uninterrupted service," the statement continued.

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




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