Nurses hit the picket line

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Nurses at Northside Medical Center hit the picket line at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, despite a threat by hospital officials that the move could be seen as unlawful.

The 480 members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association have begun a 24-hour unfair labor practice strike. Nurses gathered outside the hospital on Gypsy Lane and were permitted inside the hospital to escort nurses out who were working the overnight and early morning shifts.

“Right now, we probably have about 300 nurses out here,” said YGDNA President Eric Williams. “They’re all here in support and later this afternoon, there rest of the people will be coming out. They’re doing it in shifts.”

State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, joined the nurses Tuesday. He said the “big corporation from out of town” has been trying to intimidate the nurses.

“I think the clear message is this. You’re out of town. You’re one of those big, super hospitals, but you can’t intimidate people from this area who are trying to stick together and have dignity in the workplace,” said Hagan. “I want to see them go back to the table to negotiate. I don’t want them to shut us out, shut them out. I think it’s important that everybody understands that’s the bottom line here. Let’s sit down and let’s talk.”

In a news release on Monday, hospital administrators said they are filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board challenging the validity of the 10-day notices of the union’s intention to strike and picket.

The hospital contends the Ohio Nurses Association violated the National Labor Relations Act by serving three separate, conflicting and confusing notifications to the hospital. According to the release, the ONA submitted a strike notice on Sept. 12 and then on the same day submitted two separate amendments to the notice, changing the dates and times. The changes must be approved in writing by both the union and the hospital.

The hospital did not agree to any of the union’s notices and said if the ONA moves forward with the strike, the hospital would view it as unlawful, the release stated.

A reply from the union called the hospital’s threat “a blatant attempt to harass and intimidate nurses.”

“There can be no question that Northside management has been adequately notified of our plans,” said Eric Williams, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association. “After all, they and Northside’s for-profit corporate owner have hired outside nurses at $55 an hour to take our places on Tuesday. Their baseless claim that the notice of this strike was somehow inadequate is a transparent ploy to threaten our members.”

“The intent of the notice requirement is to give the hospital enough advance warning so that they can make plans to operate during the strike,” said Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer for the Ohio Nurses Association, the official bargaining agent for the Northside nurses. “This claim by the employer is a last-minute attempt by local management and Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc. to undermine the commitment of nurses to stand up for continued quality care at Northside. That won’t happen.”

At meetings of YGDNA members through the day on Monday, nurses expressed their resolve to continue the fight to reach a fair contract agreement. The nurses and hospital administrators met two weeks ago with a federal mediator, but an agreement was not reached.

Northside has proposed an eight-month contract because “we want to increase the base pay for our nurses.” The short contract would provide a wage increase and give both parties a break from negotiations with the intent to return to the bargaining table to negotiate other issues.  A hospital spokesperson also said the proposed contract is similar to those overwhelmingly ratified by other ValleyCare bargaining units.

The nurses have been working without a contract since July 2012.

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