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NURSES STRIKE | Day 26 Forum: Demands are not feasible



Published: Sat, May 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Forum Health has rejected a plan by the nurses union that would eliminate mandatory overtime.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Forum Health says it simply can't afford to meet the contract demands of its striking nurses.

In a memo to employees Friday, Kris Hoce, Forum president, publicly listed demands from the union for the first time:

U A 5.25 percent wage increase annually for three years.

UAddition of a new pay level for employees with 20 years.

UPension improvements that would cost Forum $8 million.

UIncreased shift differential pay, doubled life insurance benefits, enhanced dental coverage and reductions in co-payments on insurance coverage for drugs.

UA sick-time buyout at retirement.

Hoce said the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association has not moved on any of these demands since a strike by about 770 nurses at Northside Medical Center, Tod Children's Hospital and Beeghly Medical Park began May 1.

Meeting these demands would add 30 percent to labor costs over three years, he said.

"No organization, particularly a health-care organization, can afford these kind of increases," he added.

Conflict on issues: Union president Bonnie Lambert said, however, that these issues aren't central to the strike. The main issue is mandatory overtime, which the union wants to eliminate.

"These other issues are at the back of the table. The hospital isn't even talking about them," she said.

She disputed facts on a few of the proposals. She said the union is not seeking increases in dental or medical plans but wants only to keep current benefits.

As for pensions, the union wants nurses who retire to have a way to get health insurance but isn't asking Forum to pay for it, she said.

Lambert said the other issues, including the pay raise and the additional pay step, are needed to help Forum recruit and retain nurses.

Forum officials have said they have offered the nurses raises of 3 percent per year over three years. Forum nurses earn about $23 an hour.

Both sides say the talks are hung up over mandatory overtime. The two sides met Thursday but failed to resolve the issue. No new talks are set.

Union change: Hoce said the only change in the union position Thursday was to phase out the elimination of mandatory overtime by using agency nurses through Feb. 1. After then, there would be no mandatory overtime and no use of agency nurses.

Lambert said that should be enough time for Forum to recruit and train new nurses to bolster its staff.

Hoce said the hospital made a counteroffer to the union's proposal, but Lambert said the hospital told the union that mandatory overtime will not go away.

She said union negotiators won't back away from this issue. It is better to resolve the problem now than wait three years and have it become a contract issue again, she said.

shilling@vindy.com




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