Union files complaints over contract negotiations
By Julie Weeder, Journal staff writer
The union representing nurses at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board Monday alleging bad faith bargaining and unfair labor practices.
Meanwhile, a Web site that keeps tabs for travel and replacement nurses has issued a notice for nurses to come to Iowa for a strike that could begin Wednesday.
The complaint filed by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 222, which represents Mercy's 462 registered nurses, says that members of management have been meeting with nurses individually to find out "what it will take" to settle the contract.
The complaint also alleges that Mercy is attempting to make up losses from operations in other hospitals in its network by attacking the wages and benefits of the nurses, and is trying to "scare" the nurses into abandoning the union.
The nurses voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject the hospital's final offer. The contract expires at midnight Wednesday. The nurses gave notice June 17 of their intention to strike if the contract is not negotiated successfully before expiration.
After the vote Thursday, the union contacted the federal mediator assigned to the negotiations and said the nurses were ready to return to the bargaining table immediately. However, the mediator's repeated attempts to contact hospital representatives were not met with a response, the complaint says.
Mike Krysl, spokesman for Mercy, said Monday hospital representatives have agreed to meet with the federal mediator and union representatives Wednesday morning.
"We're still hopeful that we'll be able to reach some agreement on a new contract for the registered nurses," he said. "At the same time, we're hoping that our registered nurses will continue to consider Mercy's best and last offer as presented to them last week."
The complaint also takes issue with Mercy CEO and president Peter Makowski's absence from negotiations. Since collective bargaining sessions began March 30, 13 meetings have been held. Makowski has attended none of them, the complaint says.
The complaint says representatives of the union are prepared to meet with hospital representatives at any time before midnight Wednesday and thereafter if needed, and have prepared a set of counterproposals to the hospital's last offer.
Makowski has said a contingency plan is in place to provide nurses for the hospital should the union nurses strike. Though the hospital has declined to elaborate on the contingency plan, the Web site scab.org has posted a notice of an "Iowa strike to start July 1st."
The site offers $40 per hour in all specialties and encourages nurses with licenses from Iowa or 16 other states to call an 800 number for information. The Web site, operated by Health Care Consulting and Staffing Services Inc., is a resource site for nurses, in particular replacement, temporary and traveling nurses.
In response, the union said it "will consider any replacements hired by the hospital from temporary agencies as members of the bargaining unit." As such, the union said it will try to ensure the hospital is not allowed to provide them wages or benefits better than it has offered its own nurses.
Julie Weeder may be reached at (712) 293-4228 or firstname.lastname@example.org