Ohio nurses walk picket line to maintain quality care

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Nurses at Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Ohio, conducted a one-day work stoppage on Sept. 24 as they stepped up efforts to reach a new contract that will allow the hospital to maintain its award-winning patient care and clinical operations.

nurses strike

Members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, which is affiliated with the Ohio Nurses Association and the AFT, voted to call the one-day, unfair labor practice strike after 15 months of on-again, off-again bargaining failed to produce an agreement and Northside's management and corporate owners showed little interest in discussing concerns raised by their contract proposals.

"We're ready and willing to bargain around the clock to reach an agreement," says YGDNA President Eric Williams. "But we have to have someone to talk to—and Northside management and Community Health Systems Inc., the hospital's for-profit owner, have been unwilling to discuss the issues we have raised that relate to the quality of patient care."

Some contract terms proposed by Northside and the Nashville-based CHS have the potential to undermine nurses' ability to speak out in the future about issues such as safety and patient care, Williams says. Nurses currently have the contractual right to bring up such concerns. YGDNA members are also concerned about CHS proposals that could lead to the rationing of nursing care at the hospital.

When nurses hit the picket line at 7 a.m., they were joined by AFT Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence (pictured below), who is a Youngstown native. "Nurses are out here today standing up for quality patient care at Northside," Lawrence said. "I came to Youngstown to stand with the nurses in my hometown in their effort to get a contract that recognizes their professional standards and values, that advances the hospital, and that serves the community."

Fran Lawrence

Negotiators for the nurses have said that the last bargaining session on Sept. 11 produced some progress toward establishing a dialogue between the two sides, but fell far short of generating an agreement. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has called on hospital management to reach a "fair and equitable" agreement with Northside nurses, and earlier this month offered his assistance in the process.

But rather than schedule more bargaining sessions, Williams says, Northside and CHS hired outside nurses at $55 an hour, more than the hospital pays Youngstown nurses who live in this community and serve its people every day.

"Our bargaining team is hopeful that by calling attention to the need for the two sides to resume talks, we will help the employer and our community understand how important it is that we all make a commitment to strengthen and expand the dialogue that began to emerge earlier this month," says Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer for ONA. "It is not too late to reach a fair agreement." [Ohio Nurses Association press release/photos by Madelyn Hastings]

September 24, 2013