Pickets over, but strike continues at Northside

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A 24-hour strike by nurses at Northside Medical Center will continue until 7 a.m. Wednesday, but the picket line outside the hospital shut down about 12 hours after it began Tuesday morning.

“Today was excellent. It exceeded our expectations. The nurses are united, our cause is just and we showed that to the community and we got a lot of community support too,” said nurse Joyce Shaffer.

She said community members and local lawmakers carried signs alongside the members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, which represents 480 nurses at Northside.

“The nurses really made a statement they wanted to make to the employer and that is patient safety is number one and we want to get back to the bargaining table,” said Kelly Trautner, deputy director of the Ohio Nurses Association.

The two sticking points in the negotiations that have not changed are wages and patient safety.

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, union president.

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.

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.

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.

Nurses said they plan to head back to work promptly at 7 a.m. Wednesday and they stopped picketing around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to prepare for the day ahead.

“Its been a long day. We want people to get home and rested. We are coming to work tomorrow at 7 a.m. so we have to prepare for that,” Shaffer said.

However, the hospital can still lock out the nurses Wednesday morning.

Both sides said they want to get back to the table and negotiate, but no new talks are scheduled.

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