Northside nurses picket

YOUNGSTOWN – Ahead of planned talks, more than 100 Northside Medical Center nurses took to the streets Saturday to make their case about ongoing contract negotiations.

“We are here today to garner public support for safe nursing care,” Eric Williams, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, said. “The practices that Community Health Systems is trying to establish at the negotiating table includes silencing nurses.”

Williams said the nurses have been working without a contract for about 14 months.

“This is about getting a contract that will allow nurses to continue to advocate about safe patient care, safe staffing and also to have a wage and hour increases for the nurses,” Williams said.

The contract would affect more than 400 registered nurses.

This is the first contract being negotiated between the nurses union and Tennessee-based Community Health Systems since the company purchased Northside in 2010, he said.

Michael Nguyen, a nurse at the hospital, says a lot of the patient care decisions are being made by hospital executives in Tennessee, not by people living in the Youngstown area.

“This is an award winning hospital – one of the best in the state – and we want to keep the high level of patient care that has been established,” Nguyen said. “The nurses and the community take a lot of pride in those rankings.

“We know how to best take care of the people here in Youngstown,” he continued.

Hospital spokeswoman Trish Hrina said via email Saturday that the nurses union is in the minority when it comes to accepting a contract that is similar to those OK’d by other unions.

“The Ohio Nurses Association at Northside is the only bargaining unit within ValleyCare that has not reached agreement on a new contract even though it has been offered proposals for wages, comprehensive benefits and low volume staffing that mirror the agreements overwhelmingly ratified by all of the other bargaining units over the past nine months,” Hrina said in an email. “Employees covered by these contracts include registered nurses, service, technical, maintenance and professional workers.

Among the other unions that accepted the contract were registered nurses at Trumbull Memorial Hospital and those represented by the ONA at Hillside, according to Hrina.

“We remain committed to the collective bargaining process and to a positive relationship with our nursing staff and all of our employees,” Hrina said.

Members of the Ohio Nurses Association and the YGDNA authorized the union leaders to issue an intent to strike notice last month. The union plans to meet with members of the hospital’s negotiation team on Wednesday.

Members of several unions, including the United Auto Workers and the building trades, were at the hospital to support the nurses, according to Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning/Trumbull Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.