One official said Forum doesn't carry strike insurance that would help offset the cost of the walkout.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- For 17 days striking Forum Health registered nurses have watched busloads of replacement workers rumble past their picket lines. Their resentment is growing, they say.
"They're trying to starve us out," said Eric Williams, an 18-year veteran of the cardiac intensive care unit at Northside Medical Center.
"The feeling is that they're trying to force us to accept unacceptable conditions, and they're using these nurses as a wedge to do that."
Conversation on the picket lines often turns to theorizing about the replacements -- how much they're being paid, whether they're providing the care the striking nurses once offered.
"I feel Forum is just prolonging the strike by using replacement nurses," said Pamela Moskovites, who's been a neonatal intensive care nurse at Tod Children's Hospital for 16 years.
Hospital's side: But Forum spokeswoman Evonne Woloshyn said the hospital had no choice but to bring in replacements when members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses walked out May 1.
Contrary to rumor, she said, Forum doesn't carry strike insurance to cover the costs of the walkout.
"No, we don't have strike insurance, and we want very much to have our nurses back on the job," she said.
"But we had to keep those facilities open. With the declining number of hospital beds in the area, we have a responsibility to serve the health care needs of the community."
The Mahoning Valley's total number of hospital beds has dropped dramatically in the past few years with the recent closings of Youngstown Osteopathic Hospital, Southside Medical Center and Warren General Hospital.
Woloshyn said Forum asked the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association twice to extend its contract deadline and ward off a strike, but the union refused.
"There was no way we could just say to the patients and their families that we would be offering them a downsized version of health care."
Woloshyn refused to comment on the nurses' allegations that replacements are being paid between $45 and $95 an hour, in addition to meals, lodging and transportation costs. She would not say how much the strike is costing Forum.
The workers are housed in local hotels and bused in for 12-hour work shifts.
'Scab roster': "Scab Scoop," a memo posted in the YGDN's Gypsy Lane strike headquarters, shows union members have tracked the replacements' comings and goings, their work schedules, the hotels they're lodged at, the restaurants where they eat.
A "scab roster" prominently displayed on the back wall lists five YGDNA nurses who reportedly have crossed union picket lines to go back to work.
Striking nurses have been observed shouting and chanting, "Scabs go home," at the busloads of replacement nurses crossing their picket lines, but union members say they have not tried to stop the buses from crossing.
"I just wonder what kind of people they are," Pamela Moskovites, a 16-year veteran of Tod Children's Hospital who works in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"I wonder how many would be willing to cross the picket line if they had to face us instead of being bused in behind shaded windows."
Another concern: Williams and his wife, Roseann, an operating room nurse and 29-year veteran of Northside, said it's unlikely the replacements can be giving the personalized care Forum's regular nurses provided.
In surgery, for example, each doctor has special preferences for how they want their instruments and the nurses know them without asking.
Patients who head for home after a surgery get a call from a nurse the next day checking to see how they're progressing. "We're hearing that those kinds of things aren't being done," Mrs. Williams said.
Vicki Toth, a nurse for 22 years in the Center for Behavioral Medicine at Northside, said the replacement nurses are working under much better conditions than Forum's regular nurses were accustomed to.
"We've been hearing that the ratio of patients to nurses is two or more times normal," she said. "When we were there, many times, it was a skeleton crew."
Where money goes: Other striking nurses said the hospital is hurting the local economy by paying wages to out-of-state replacements.
"All the money they're paying out is going out of state," said Jody Durkin, a neonatal ICU nurse at Tod, explaining that the replacements are not shopping, buying groceries or otherwise fueling the local economy.
"Some people say we make good money, but we also put that money back into the economy," she added.
Forum officials said the company's last offer would have given salary increases of 3 percent per year over three years. Forum nurses earn about $23 an hour.