By William K. Alcorn
Registered nurses at Northside Medical Center, following the recommendation of their union bargaining committee, rejected what ValleyCare Health System called its final and best contract offer.
Members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurse Association/Ohio Nurse Association turned down ValleyCare’s proposal Tuesday, said Eric Williams, YGDNA president.
“A record percentage of members voted in an overwhelming majority to reject the offer,” Williams said, adding that the union authorized the issuance of a 10-day strike notice, if necessary.
The 430 registered nurses at Northside have not had a raise in seven years and have been without a contract since July 19, 2012, Williams said.
The nurses voted at one of four meetings — 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. — at the Teamsters Local 377 hall, at which ValleyCare’s proposal was presented and discussed before the voting.
Before the 4 p.m. meeting, Williams said the nurses were turning out at a record pace to vote.
The mood of the membership was solemn, he said, adding, “They are disappointed, disgusted and angry all rolled into one.”
After the votes are tallied, Williams said he would report the results to ValleyCare and send an email with the results to the members.
Trish Hrina, vice president of marketing for ValleyCare Health System of Ohio, said in a statement that ValleyCare is still pursuing a resolution to the negotiations.
“We are committed to continuing in a productive, mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with all of our employees,” Hrina said.
In a letter to registered nurses last week, Kirk M. Ray, ValleyCare president and chief executive officer, said the hospital made its final offer and the parties are at impasse.
Further, Ray said, the Ohio Nurse Association has worked to discredit the hospital and has “deliberately engaged in regressive bargaining,” leading to the hospital’s filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
There is no impasse, union officials said.
Williams said the hospital negotiating team, which has no medical personnel, refuses to sit in the same room with the union representatives.
As a result, the ONA has filed several charges against the hospital with the NLRB. They include bad-faith bargaining and refusal to bargain; improper declaration of an impasse; and violation of the contract by bargaining directly with employees instead of working through the union.
The economic issues can be resolved at the bargaining table, Williams said. But the hospital team refuses to have face-to-face conversation with the union and wants to meet only every two months.
“The hospital is deliberately generating a crisis. Their actions could lead to a strike,” he said.
“We’ve been through a bankruptcy trying to keep the hospital open. We’ve offered solutions that make sense, but there is no one on the hospital negotiating team with medical training who is able to address our issues,” Williams said.
Besides economic issues, there are patient safety issues because of “nurse rationing” and taking away a nurse’s ability to advocate for a patient, Williams said.
Under nurse rationing, nurses can be sent home for any reason, potentially leaving the hospital short-handed and having to call nurses out to work if something like a car wreck with multiple injuries occur, he said.
Further, he said, in the contract offered by the hospital, the process by which nurses can advocate for a patient is removed. “It amounts to a gag order,” Williams said.
The Northside nurses’ contract vote comes shortly after ValleyCare said it would lay off 77 full-time equivalent employees at Northside, including six or seven full-time equivalent registered nurses.
ValleyCare also recently broke ground at Northside for a $20 million addition and renovation project that includes a 30,000-square-foot, three-story tower to house a new emergency department and entrance that will serve as the hub of the hospital.
Nurses at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, the other hospitals in ValleyCare’s system, have ratified three-year work agreements.
Hillside nurses, represented by ONA, ratified a contract, effective Nov. 30, 2012, that gives them a 2.75 percent pay hike the first year, 2.5 percent the second year and 2 percent the final year of the pact. It also gives the nurses a voice in staffing levels at Hillside through guaranteed participation in a staffing advisory committee.
Trumbull Memorial Hospital service employees, represented by the Service Employees International Union, also ratified a new collective-bargaining contract with ValleyCare, which expires Jan. 31, 2016.
TMH registered nurses, represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2026, approved a three-year contract late in 2012 that includes across-the-board pay increases of 2.5 percent the first year and 2 percent each of the last two years, or re-institution of longevity-step increases, whichever is greater.
Williams added that YGDNA requests that Valley- Care representatives come back to the table.