Some of the 400 registered nurses at ValleyCare Northside Medical Center manned informational picket lines Tuesday in front of the hospital on Gypsy Lane, Youngstown.
By William K. Alcorn
Ending the contract impasse between nurses at Northside Medical Center and ValleyCare Ohio Health System is the first goal of the newly affiliated Ohio Nurse Association and American Federation of Teachers.
The ONA, of which the Youngstown General Duty Nurse Association representing 400 nurses at Northside is a member, approved affiliation with AFT on Friday.
The primary reason for the affiliation is to give ONA more of a voice at the national level and in dealing with large employers such as Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which owns ValleyCare, said Linda Warino, ONA District 3 director.
Major hospitals in the ValleyCare System are Northside in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland.
“Today, with health-care mergers and acquisitions, we need to be part of a larger organization,” Warino said. “Our local here is 100 percent in favor of the affiliation with AFT,” she said. “Community Health Systems is a huge company. We need a bigger voice, and it will help ONA be more efficient in the way we serve our members at the local level because we can let go of some of the things we do on the state level.”
The YGDNA membership was updated on negotiations at meetings at 8 a.m. and 4 and 8 p.m. Monday, said Eric Williams, YGDNA president.
“We want to continue to bargain for a fair contract that allows the nurses to advance,” Williams said. “We hope sometime to get there. The hospital has offered a pay increase, but when the package is taken as a whole, nurses go home with less in their pockets.”
The campaign to take YGDNA’s case to the public began with television spots featuring several nurses and print ads in The Vindicator and in Nashville, Tenn., near where CHS has its headquarters, union officials said.
The ONA/AFT advertising message is that CHS has focused on growth but not enough on its workers.
The registered nurses at Northside have not had a raise in seven years and have been without a contract since July 19, 2012, Williams said.
CHS affiliates own, operate or lease more than 135 hospitals in 29 states, with an aggregate of approximately 20,000 licensed beds, according to the CHS website. In more than 55 percent of the markets served, CHS-affiliated hospitals are the sole provider of health-care services.
The campaign in Youngstown is the first joint ONA/AFT project and is being funded by both groups, union officials said.
Part of the campaign was informational picketing by YGDNA nurses Tuesday in front of Northside protesting what they feel is unfair treatment by the owners.
Nurses at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital and TMH have reached three-year work agreements with CHS.
The 20 nurses at Hillside ratified a contract Dec. 21, 2012, that gives them a 2.75 percent pay increase the first year, 2.5 percent the second year and 2 percent the final year of the pact, as well as a voice in staffing levels.
Trumbull Memorial Hospital service employees, represented by the Service Employees International Union, also ratified a new collective-bargaining contract with CHS as did TMH-registered nurses represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2026.
Strengthening the voice of nurses in Ohio strengthens the care nurses are able to provide for their patients, said AFT President Randi Weingarten.
“Ohio’s nurses are a good fit with our 1.5 million AFT members who devote their lives to making a difference every day for the patients, students and others they serve in their communities,” she said.
Atty. Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer for ONA, said the fast-paced changes of the health-care industry require that nurses on the front lines have the ability to speak up on behalf of their patients.
“The legislative and regulatory reach of the largest union of professionals in the AFL-CIO amplifies our voice and better prepares us for the many challenges we face. When that happens, patients are the ultimate winners,” Trautner said.