Hospital, union hope to find common ground

EAST LIVERPOOL – Having averted a strike for now, East Liverpool City Hospital registered nurses and the administration plan to resume contract negotiations under what they hope are more amicable circumstances on June 17, officials said.

If the bargaining session goes forward, it will mean a 19-day hiatus in negotiations. The last time the two sides talked was May 29, two days before the nurses’ strike deadline.

The nurses canceled their May 30 vote on the hospital’s latest contract offer and rescinded their 10-day strike notice, instead filing unfair labor practice charges against the hospital.

The hospital reciprocated by filing its own charges against the East Liverpool Nurses Association, a local unit of the Ohio Nurses Association. The union represents the hospital’s 133 registered nurses.

No talks have been held since the May 29 bargaining session, but the nurses continue to report to work under an expired contract. The hospital, meanwhile, has resumed regular admissions, said Chief Nursing Officer Stacie Call.

“All the units are open,” she said, “and we are going to continue to negotiate. The administration’s hope is obviously that we resolve this, that we come to a resolution with a contract.”

The nurses last approved a two-year contract in May 2012. That contract expired at midnight Saturday.

After seven bargaining sessions, the first of which was held on April 24, the nurses continue to express disillusionment with the process.

“We hope that when management returns to the bargaining table, they will focus on working with the nurses, not against us,” said Joe Pilarcik, ELNA vice president.

Pilarcik accused the ELCH administration of threatening to close the hospital if the nurses did not agree by June 1 to concessions that would satisfy the hospital’s future business partner, Humility of Mary Health Partners.

In February, River Valley Health Partners, which operates the hospital, signed a letter of intent with Humility of Mary to “fully integrate” the two health care providers. The merger will be official later this summer, pending regulatory approval and finalization of terms.

“Management’s threats to close the hospital are an insult to our town’s proud history. This hospital was built by our ancestors and has been at the heart of our community for more than 100 years,” Pilarcik said.

He also said the hospital is diverting patients to other area hospitals.

Call, who is on the hospital negotiating team, declined to comment on the union’s charges.

Pilarcik reiterated the union’s complaint that the hospital wants to “down staff” nurses without limitation and “force” nurses to work 16-hour shifts without overtime pay.

The hospital has said that its latest offer includes, among other things, annual wage increases over the life of the contract, leading to a top rate of almost $34 an hour; paid days off that would include as much as 28 vacation days and seven holidays per year; “significant” signing bonuses; overtime pay for any time worked over 40 hours in a week; and two-and-a-half times pay for all major holiday hours worked.