Some progress made in talks Wednesday Sept. 11

By William K. Alcorn


Registered nurses at Northside Medical Center on Thursday gave notice to the hospital that they plan to conduct a one-day strike Sept. 24.

The Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, which represents the 420 RNs at Northside, issued the notice after noting that despite some progress in bargaining Wednesday, the dialogue failed to produce an agreement on issues that could affect quality patient care, said Eric Williams, YGDNA president.

“No one wants to go on strike, but we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain the high standard of care for which Northside is known,” Williams said.

“For the last 15 months, the hospital’s corporate owner, the Nashville-based, for-profit Community Health Systems, refused to even discuss issues that affect the Youngstown community. Our talks this week advanced the discussion, but they must move beyond their take-it-or-leave-it approach,” Williams said.

Trish Hrina, spokeswoman for Community Health Systems, issued this statement in response to the strike notice:

“The Ohio Nurses Association has notified us of their intent to conduct a strike and picketing at the hospital on Sept. 24. We will be prepared to maintain all hospital services and our commitment to safe, high-quality patient care will continue without interruption.

“The conduct of a strike and picketing will not alter the hospital’s position at the bargaining table. Our final offer to the ONA mirrors the wage increases, comprehensive benefits and low volume staffing terms overwhelmingly approved by five other ValleyCare bargaining units, including another unit represented by the ONA.”

Williams said YGDNA members remain concerned that terms proposed by ValleyCare Heath Systems of Ohio/Northside management and Community Health Systems have the potential to undermine nurses’ ability to speak out in the future about issues such as safety and patient care. Nurses currently have the contractual right to bring up such concerns.

Williams said nurses also are concerned about CHS proposals that could lead to the rationing of nursing care at the hospital.

“We continue to be prepared to meet around the clock — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if necessary — to get an agreement,” said Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association, the statewide union that is the official bargaining agent for the Northside unit.

“We talked for four and one-half hours. We were hopeful that we could get a new contract, but the dialogue failed to produce an agreement,” Trautner said.

She and Williams both said the unfair-labor-practice strike would be part of ongoing efforts to highlight the issues still dividing the two sides — matters that nurses believe could undermine Northside’s award-winning patient care and clinical operations.

Last month, YGDNA members overwhelmingly rejected the most recent offer from CHS executives and Northside management, union officials said.

On Aug. 2, the YGDNA membership, which has been without a contract since July 19, 2012, authorized its bargaining committee to call a strike.

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