YOUNGSTOWN - Both Northside Medical Center and its registered nurses say they are making plans for a possible work stoppage after nurses in recent weeks voted down the hospital's "final contract offer."
A union strike committee for the Ohio Nurses Association / Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association met Wednesday to begin considering possible work action if no agreement is met, union officials said in a news release.
And while hospital management is hoping no work stoppage occurs, spokeswoman Trish Hrina said if it happens, the hospital "will be fully prepared."
She pointed out, though, that the hospital has not been served with a strike notice.
In an effort to prepare for a possible work stoppage, a YGDNA strike committee has scheduled a job fair for Sept. 5, intended to assist members to find temporary placement should a strike at Northside occur.
The 430 registered nurses voted Aug. 6 to reject the hospital's latest offer, termed by hospital officials as its "final offer."
Still, union officials are pushing hospital management to return to the table.
"We are confident that outcome can be avoided if management will just come to the bargaining table ready and willing to participate in real discussion of the issues that separate us," said YGDNA President Eric Williams. "Those issues have everything to do with our concerns about the potential effects of management's offer on the quality of patient care.
"Instead of resolving issues with the Northside nursing staff, management so far appears intent on a go-slow approach that would set bargaining sessions far in the future," he said.
Union members said they rejected the last proposal largely because of "nurse rationing."
"The offer rejected last week would also prevent nurses from speaking out on future patient safety issues and undermine the stability of the nursing staff," Williams said.
Hospital management on Friday fired back, saying that union communications implying the hospital is attempting to ration care for patients only undermines the history of providing great care and the trust built in the community.
"What the O.N.A. has labeled as 'nurse rationing' is actually a plan to staff our hospital to the volume and acuity levels of the patients in our care," Hrina said. "This is a common practice across the healthcare industry, including our sister hospital Hillside. Our research shows that the O.N.A. has agreed to staffing flexibility in at least ten hospitals surrounding the Youngstown area."
Among those were contract agreements with five other collective bargaining units, including registered nurses at Trumbull and those represented by the O.N.A. at Hillside.
"Each of these agreements mirrors the final offer we provided to the O.N.A. at Northside. Our offer included a 2.5 percent wage increase and a comprehensive, competitive benefits package," Hrina said.
Williams said Northside and CHS executives have refused to engage in direct and meaningful discussion of how their proposals could affect patient care and the strength of clinical operations for which Northside is known.
In response, Hrina pointed out the National Labor Relations Act provides the right for each party to select its own representatives. Local hospital management is actively involved in all aspects of negotiations, she said.
"We are all disappointed to be at an impasse with the O.N.A. after more than a year of bargaining. The Federal mediator is working on scheduling another meeting," Hrina said. "Our registered nurses play an important role in providing quality and personalized care for our patients. We remain hopeful that we will ultimately come to a mutually acceptable agreement."