Sides at odds over language

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) —  Nurses with Northside Medical Center continued to walk a picket line outside the facility Tuesday afternoon, approximately 10 hours after walking off their jobs Tuesday morning in a one-day-strike.

It’s all centering around efforts to come up with a new contract between the 480 members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association and hospital administrators.

For weeks, leaders with the nurses union have been complaining that the proposed “final agreement” offered by the hospital would prevent nurses from “advocating” for their patients. The nurses said they’re particularly upset with language included in the offer that they claim could create a gag order against the employees.

“Anything not spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement, we’d be forbidden from doing. So unless it’s specifically spelled out, then the employee would be putting their job at risk if they were to advocate or speak out,” said Eric Williams, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association.

But hospital officials said that is not true and a spokeswoman for Northside challenged the nurses to publicly prove their claims.

“The Ohio Nurses Association has told your reporters many times that the hospital’s contract offer would inhibit nurses from speaking up for patients. There is nothing in the hospital’s proposals that would change the right and responsibility of our nurses to provide input, raise concerns and actively participate in efforts to advance quality or to speak up about any matter that impacts quality care for patients. In fact, nurses participate, and would continue to participate, in daily safety meetings that take place in each department.  Nurses also participate in hospital committees focused on quality, staffing and safety. The hospital urges you to ask the union to produce the language in our offer that they are referring to when they make these claims,” hospital spokeswoman Trish Hrina said in an emailed statement.

YGDNA President Eric Williams said the current proposal from the hospital includes a waiver that indicates anything not spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement would not be recognized.

“Obviously, a nurse advocating for a patient in not specifically spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement. So, therefore, if a nurse did that, she could be suspect for her job or her employment status to be questioned,” Williams said.

Williams said a second clause claims while the hospital would not be bound by anything not already contained in the new offer, administrators could later modify or change existing policies, including established past practices, that are not covered by the agreement. He said that clause could eventually be used as a gag rule.

Williams also claims the so-called advocacy issue involves staffing, and argued the hospital’s demand for flexible scheduling will leave fewer nurses to watch patients.

“In order to meet those numbers, you have to be able to recruit and retain registered nurses. In order to recruit and retain registered nurses, you have to have an adequate salary scale,” he said.

At this point, no new bargaining sessions have been scheduled and the picketing is supposed to continue until 7 p.m., although the strike itself is expected to continue until 7 a.m. Wednesday when workers are supposed to walk, in unison, back in to their jobs.

The nurses and hospital administrators met two weeks ago with a federal mediator, but an agreement was not reached. The nurses have been working under an expired contract since July 2012.

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