YOUNGSTOWN - The designated quiet zone outside Northside Medical Center wasn't so quiet Tuesday morning as passing motorists honked their horns and bullhorn-led nurses chanted and cheered from the picket line outside the hospital.
Hundreds of nurses represented by the Ohio Nurses Association / Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association walked off the job for a 12-hour labor strike beginning at 7 a.m. The healthcare providers have been working without a labor contract since July 2012. Both sides said no new talks have been scheduled.
Inside the hospital, management said it was business as usual with temporary replacement nurses filling in to allow inpatient, outpatient and emergency services to go on as needed.
"We have had ambulances come in, we have delivered babies, we have patients," said Trish Hrina, ValleyCare Health System of Ohio vice president of marketing and public relations. "As far as I am aware, everything in the hospital is business as usual."
Union Local president Eric Williams said the goal of Tuesday's work stoppage was to bring to light problems with patient care that would be created if management's proposed labor contract were to pass. Union members last month overwhelmingly defeated what the hospital termed its "final offer." Williams said the union is arguing against a hospital plan that could send nurses home and bring them back to work based on fluctuating patient census, and terms that would ban nurses from speaking out when patient care issues arise.
Four hours of negotiations held Sept. 11 resulted in no progress, and union officials say hospital management is not bargaining in good faith.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Brenda J. Linert
Nurses picket outside Northside Medical Center in Youngstown on Tuesday. The one-day strike was meant to draw attention to their contract talks with hospital management.
ValleyCare management, however, maintains that patient care and safety has always been the hospital's priority, and says nothing in the hospital's contract offer diminishes the ability of nurses to provide input, raise concerns or participate in decisions that advance quality care for their patients.
"Nurses currently participate in the staffing and quality committees that the hospital maintains and they would continue to participate in those committees under the final contract offer made by the hospital," said a statement released by the hospital.
Management said the contract offer includes wage increases, benefits and flexible staffing in terms that mirror those ratified by other ValleyCare bargaining units. Flex staffing, the hospital says, is a standard practice hospitals use to manage operations and scheduling.
Still, union members say they will not agree to what they termed "cookie cutter negotiations," and demanded management return to the table to bargain in good faith.
To drive home that point, nurses and their supporters waved picket signs and chanted. They were joined by other members of labor and Democratic elected officials, including state Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, state Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard and state Rep. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown. Representatives for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, also visited the picket line to offer support.
The possibility of similar future work stoppages will be evaluated as time goes on, Williams said. "We will see what the future holds and make those decisions as things move forward."
Strikes and picketing, however, will not alter the hospital's position at the bargaining table, hospital management responded.
A nurses strike lasted nearly three months in 2001 before a new contract was reached at that time. It was the last work stoppage at Northside, which was under different ownership. The hospital system was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2010 by Community Health Services of Tennessee.