MISSOURI: Nurses OK notice of economic action at St. John's

  1. (Reposted by brian for NRSKarenRN)

    This story was published in Metro on Thursday, August 30, 2001.

    Nurses OK notice of action at St. John's

    By Judith Vandewater
    Of The Post-Dispatch
    Jeremy Kohler Of The Post-Dispatch Contributed To This Report.

    After 22 months of negotiations, registered nurses at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur authorized their union Wednesday night to give notice of an economic action against the hospital.

    That action could mean a call for a community boycott of the hospital, a work slowdown, a work stoppage, a refusal to work overtime or other actions.

    In a series of three meetings at Queeny Park on Wednesday that were closed to the news media, nurse negotiators sought the authority to call for an "economic action" against St. John's, one of the area's largest hospitals. The three meetings yielded about a 91 percent approval of authorizing the notice of an economic action, union officials said. About 700 attended the meetings.

    In a separate issue, hospital administrators confirmed Wednesday that nurses opposed to the union were in the early stages of an effort to decertify United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 as the collective bargaining agent for the approximately 1,500 registered nurses at St. John's.

    A decertification vote would be scheduled if supporters presented the National Labor Relations Board with petitions signed by 30 percent of the nurses.

    When nurses authorized the union as their collective bargaining agent in July 1999, the election was the first major victory for an AFL-CIO union in hospital organizing in this area. St. John's and the union negotiating team have been in initial contract talks since the fall of 1999 and have reached a tentative agreement on all contract matters except wages and benefits.

    The union charges that the hospital is stalling now, and it launched a publicity campaign to turn up the pressure.

    The hospital said in a statement issued Wednesday that both sides have been working hard and in good faith to reach agreement and negotiations are continuing.

    Hospital spokeswoman Amy Zimmerman said she would not comment on the vote to authorize the notice until the hospital had been formally notified of the vote by the union.

    The union is required by law to give the hospital 10 days' notice of an economic action.

    Kathy Smith, a nurse who broke from the union Sunday and resigned her seat on the negotiating committee, held a series of open meetings at the hospital Wednesday to express her "alarm at the path the union is taking and the potential end result." Smith said that the union is moving toward a strike or a work action that could affect patient care. "A strike is against my principles," she said.

    Union supporters said the authority to take economic action of some sort is a bargaining tool - it is not a strike authorization, and it is unlikely that they would take the most drastic action as an early tactic.

    About 14 nurses and representatives of the national union attended Smith's 2 p.m. meeting Wednesday in the hospital cafeteria, one of 18 she scheduled over five days. Some in the audience asked why Smith had waited to speak out against the union and the contract it is negotiating.

    Carey Thacker, a nurse and union supporter, said hospital administrators allowed nurses to leave their assignments while still on the clock to attend Smith's meeting - a privilege not afforded to those attending union meetings at the hospital.

    "She has some hospital backing," Thacker said of Smith. Thacker said she was disappointed in Smith. "She says, 'Put your faith in the hospital.' I'd rather put my faith in my co-workers," Thacker said.

    Smith said the international union did not offer enough direct support to Local 655 in negotiations. "In my opinion, the union does not have the expertise at this local in the complexities of health care negotiations," she said. Smith said that in 22 months of bargaining, the union has made no real advances for nurses and has kept nurses in the dark about details of the contract that have been tentatively agreed to by both sides.

    Local 655 President Nick Torpea said the union has made efforts to keep nurses apprised of contract progress.

    Reporter Judith VandeWater:\ E-mail: jvanderwater@post-dispatch.com\ Phone: 314-340-8201

    "The sky's the limit if your heart is in it."
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