YOUNGSTOWN - More than 400 registered nurses at Northside Medical Center could take a strike authorization vote, depending on a bargaining session today, a union official said Tuesday.
"We'll have an informational meeting Thursday at which members will have to make some decisions. A strike authorization vote could be one of those decisions," Eric Williams, president of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association/Ohio Nurses Association said.
A bargaining session is scheduled for today in Boardman. Williams declined to say where and at what time it will be held.
Registered nurses at ValleyCare's Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland are scheduled to bargain with management Thursday as a separate unit of the Ohio Nurses Association, he said. Both contracts expire July 19, he said.
Issues include pay increases, staffing and health care costs, Williams said. He said there's no talk of an extension.
In a statement, Northside Medical Center said it's "committed to providing excellent care and a safe and comfortable hospital environment for our patients. We staff our hospital based on the number of patients in our care and their medical needs and greatly appreciate the many employees who deliver that care day in and day out.
"As a major employer in this community, we value all of our employees, whether represented by a union or not. We strive to provide good working conditions, and fair compensation and benefits.
"Staffing language in our collective bargaining agreement with the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association is governed and driven by Ohio legislation and it is the hospital's position that this language be maintained.
"We are currently engaged in collective bargaining over a new contract for employees represented by YDGNA, with negotiations under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service scheduled on July 11 and 18. We are hopeful that both sides will remain focused on those negotiations so that a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached."
The union said management is offering to boost annual wages by 1.25 percent, 1 percent and 1 percent, with complete elimination of the registered nurse wage scale, which means all step increases would be eliminated, the union said.
The company is proposing a wage scale for new nurses that's less than their proposal for current nurses, the union added.
The nurses countered on June 20 with a proposal of 12 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.5 percent.
"Nurses haven't had a raise for six years," Williams said, adding management hasn't countered the union's proposal.
Another management proposal could cut nurses' pay by more than 50 percent in any two-week period, or more because they would face greater cost for health care in some cases, he said.
The union cited nursing research that it said shows the more registered nurses working, the better the odds of a patient recovering during a hospital stay.
Williams was frustrated by what he called a lack of negotiations.
"These are difficult negotiations at best," he said, adding management doesn't have a nursing representative at the table. "We want to engage in conversation over nursing issues like staffing levels and patient care, and they don't want to. I wish I knew why."