Locked out

YOUNGSTOWN – One day after a 12-hour labor strike ended, nurses remained on the picket line outside Northside Medical Center on Wednesday, but this time they said hospital administration is to blame.

Ohio Nurses Association / Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association leadership called the situation a “selective lockout” and accused the company of targeting nurses who did not report to work as scheduled on Tuesday. Nurses on Tuesday had instead picketed as part of an announced one-day labor strike.

“All of our nurses reported for duty this morning as scheduled, and management told some of us that we would not be allowed to work,” said ONA / YGDNA President Eric Williams. “Community Health Systems and local management are locking out nurses who courageously stood up for quality patient care.”

Hospital management responded with a statement saying nurses who did not report for work during the strike will be returned to their positions after 72 hours, the time period hospital management engaged the use of replacement nurses.

“We look forward to welcoming all of our nurses at that time,” hospital management said in a prepared release.

Union supporters called the statement “semantics.”

“If it’s not a lockout, then every nurse should be allowed back to work now,” said Mike Williams, a spokesman with the American Federation of Teachers. “The fact is, that’s not the case and they’re not allowing everyone to get back to work. Either it is a lockout, and we can go back to work with 100 percent of our staff, or it is a lockout.”

Nurses and union leadership said following Tuesday’s strike, many nurses returned to work early Wednesday morning to find letters ordering them off the job.

“Some were in, some were out,” said Joyce Shaffer, YGDNA vice president. “We want to be in there taking care of our patients. This was their action, not anything we decided to do.”

Williams said letters received by the employees seemed to be arbitrary with no clear message.

“Some of the letters said ‘welcome back,'” Williams said. “Several other letters said you are not allowed back until Thursday, Friday, Saturday or later. “Some of our members got a letter with no return date. Some people didn’t even get a letter. It was complete chaos on their part. It wasn’t done by departments. We can’t figure out what their formula is or what they are trying to say,” he said.

About 430 nurses represented by the ONA / YGDNA have been working without a labor contract since July 2012. Union members last month overwhelmingly defeated what the hospital termed its “final offer.” No new negotiations have been scheduled.

The main sticking point has focused on the company’s desire to implement “flex staffing” which would allow them to send home or call back nurses based on fluctuating patient census. The nurses argue that the issue could affect patient care.

Management argues, though, that the ONA has agreed to similar flexible staffing systems in at least 10 hospitals in the Youngstown area.

Management said an offer also included wage increases and competitive benefit offers.

The union has argued that a cookie-cutter agreement is not acceptable and that the contract would limit nurses’ ability to speak out publicly if patient care issues arise. The company also denies that claim.

Following the union’s one-day strike announcement, the hospital said it would file an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board because, it claimed, multiple strike notices were filed which were conflicting and unclear. The hospital threatened to fire nurses who participated.

Attempts to confirm whether the labor charge was filed have not been successful.

Wednesday’s action has strengthened the solidarity of union membership, union leaders said.

“Monday morning at 7 a.m., all 400 of our nurses will try to go back to work,” Williams said. “We just want to do what we do best and that’s give care to our patients.”

Shaffer added, “Our bargaining unit is very united … This action has further united people who were already together on the cause.”

Tribune Chronicle Business Editor Brenda J. Linert contributed to this story.