ARKANSAS: Strike day sees nurses picketing, yet at work

  1. Found at NurseWeek.com:

    Strike day sees nurses picketing, yet at work

    Copyright 2002 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.
    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette...02/27/2002

    JAKE BLEED, ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
    http://webpublisher.lexisnexis.com/i...1920004392&b=s

    Members of the nurses union at St. Vincent Infirmary Health System staged nonstrike picketing on University Avenue on Tuesday, the day they had chosen to begin a strike.
    Hospital management recognized the day, as well, running a large advertisement in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that accuses the union of making new demands during contract negotiations Friday that cut into progress made over the past 19 months. "If we were a mile apart prior to Friday, we're probably two miles apart today," Steve Simmons, St. Vincent's vice president of human resources, said in an interview.

    Paige Yates, a registered nurse and member of the union's negotiating team, said proposals made Friday were an attempt at a new approach to settling issues unresolved during previous negotiations. "We tried to make them more acceptable to St. Vincent," Yates said.

    About 800 nurses work at St. Vincent's three hospitals, including St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, St. Vincent Doctor's Hospital and St. Vincent Medical Center/North in Sherwood. The union had predicted that 350 of the hospitals' 800 nurses would honor the strike. The hospital said about 700 promised to cross picket lines and go to work.

    Nurses on the picket line Tuesday repeated demands for improved staffing, saying the hospital was dangerously short of help. "I don't want pizza, and I don't want a lollipop," said Diane Rushin, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room. "I want normal staffing levels."

    The union lifted the strike deadline after accepting an offer of third-party negotiation from a group of state lawmakers led by Rep. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. St. Vincent has not agreed to take part in those negotiations. Hospital leaders met with Elliott on Monday but have yet to make a decision about her offer. Hospital spokesman Scott Mosley said a response would likely come later this week."They seemed to take the idea seriously, and they listened and will get back to us," Elliott said.

    The union accepted Elliott's proposal after the latest round of contract talks failed Friday. The meeting was the first since November and the 54th time the two sides have met since June 2000. Simmons, a member of the hospital's negotiating team, said those talks failed after union negotiators made proposals on portions of a contract that the two sides had already agreed upon. "They have come back and asked to essentially reopen something with new demands that have already been tentatively agreed to," Simmons said.

    In particular, Simmons said, the union wanted changes in the nurses' proposed benefits and limits on the hospital's control of staffing levels and assignments. Simmons said the two sides agreed in April that staffing was "the sole and exclusive right of the hospital." "It's their prerogative to change their mind as part of the bargaining process," Simmons said. "But it does make the process much, much, much more difficult."

    Yates said only tentative agreements have been reached and that each needed approval from the nurses, not just those at the negotiating table. Yates said proposals made by the union Friday were not meant to pull the sides farther apart. The labor and delivery nurse said the hospital rejected all union efforts to reach a compromise. "They brought nothing to counter us," Yates said. "They would not negotiate."
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