09/30/2013

Youngstown nurses back at work as hospital ends lockout

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In a show of unity and support, hundreds of nurses and community members gathered at Northside Medical Center on Sept. 30 for the 7 a.m. shift change when management allowed the last nurses affected by the hospital's lockout to return to caring for Youngstown patients.

The selective lockout was imposed Sept. 25 following a one-day, unfair labor practice strike by Northside nurses.

"Youngstown nurses are happy to be back in the hospital looking after our patients," says Eric Williams, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, which is affiliated with the AFT. "That's what we have been trying to do since last Wednesday morning when all of us reported for duty—but some of us were turned away in a move by our employer that had no healthcare purpose and only served to punish nurses for exercising their rights."

Community supporters and elected officials who have called on hospital management to return to bargaining with Northside nurses came to the hospital to stand with those returning to work.

"We are grateful for the overwhelming support our nurses have received across the Youngstown community," says Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer for the Ohio Nurses Association, the bargaining agent for Northside's nurses. "But this should not surprise anyone who knows Youngstown and its people. Our nurses live in the community, pay taxes here, worship at local churches and send their kids to Youngstown schools."

It has been nearly three weeks since Northside managers and Community Health Systems Inc.—the for-profit, Tennessee-based corporate owner of the hospital—last agreed to sit down at the bargaining table and address the nurses' concerns about issues involving quality patient care.

Members of YGDNA have been concerned about proposals from CHS that could affect quality patient care. Those include a proposal to ration nurses by sending them home when patient admissions fluctuate, and a proposal that would undermine nurses' ability to speak out about patient safety and quality care issues.

Meanwhile, Youngstown and Ohio leaders continued to urge the hospital to make a commitment to work out a new contract through the collective bargaining process. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown called Williams over the weekend to express his ongoing support for the nurses' effort to negotiate a fair contract. Earlier this month, Brown offered to help facilitate continued bargaining.

On Sunday, several pastors addressed the nurses' fight from the pulpits of local churches.

YGDNA President Williams announced that an all-membership meeting of his local union has been scheduled on Oct. 2. The agenda will include a discussion of the next steps in the campaign to achieve a new contract.

Last week's one-day strike helped solidify support of this effort and added to Youngstown residents' understanding of what is at stake, Williams says. Nurses and others across the nation have been signing an online petition urging CHS and Northside to treat nurses fairly and return to the bargaining table. [Ohio Nurses Association press release]

September 30, 2013