Nurses reject contract

YOUNGSTOWN – Nurses at Northside Medical Center voted down the latest proposal by hospital management late Tuesday, officials said, authorizing the union to give a 10-day strike notice if necessary.

Eric Williams, president of the Ohio Nurses Association, which represents about 430 registered nurses at the hospital, said the vote was being termed the “final offer” by the hospital. The exact numbers on the vote were not available at press time, but Williams called it an “overwhelming” rejection of the offer.

“We hope the employers will continue to hear what the nurses have to say,” Williams said. “The ball is back in their court. It wasn’t the employees who pushed this as a final offer.”

Williams said the nurses are open to continuing negotiations, but they will strike if necessary.

Nurses have been working for about a year without a labor contract. Williams declined to discuss terms of the contract proposal, but previously had said one of the key factors in holding out is a hospital plan in which nurses could be told not to come in or sent home on short notice when patient numbers dip.

Nurses could be called back if the patient count rises.

“The employees want to implement nurse rationing and that’s a huge issue,” Williams said. “It would have a big impact on nursing care for the patients. We feel that any economic issues can be resolved, but the patient care issues are huge.”

The hospital has called the plan “standard practice across the hospital industry” and points out four other local bargaining units in the hospital system have ratified labor agreements in the past year with similar terms.

Late last week, the hospital announced it would lay off 77 full-timers or their equivalent, including about seven RNs represented by the ONA.

The hospital system cited national ”health care reform,” ”federal budget sequestration” and ”legislative mandates.”

The cuts come just weeks after administrators broke ground for a $20 million expansion at Northside aimed at adding new technology and attracting more patients, which union leaders claim is the real key to solving the hospital’s financial problems.

The hospital was purchased from bankrupt Forum Health in 2010 by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems. The project is the most expensive at the hospital in the past 15 years.

Representives with the hospital were not available for comment late Tuesday night.