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Monday, July 16, 2007

Oregon nurses to picket for closed shop

Unionized Mercy Medical Center nurses in Roseburg, OR, went through another round of negotiations with the hospital Friday, in what has been a year-and-a-half process of trying to agree on a new contract. The 41st negotiating session was Friday, and ended no closer to a contract. The nurses will be holding an informational picket to garner public awareness and support for their cause from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in front of the Roseburg hospital on Stewart Parkway.

The process has come to a halt over the issue of closed shop. The nurses' union is demanding that all of the hospital's 344 nurses be required to join the union, or pay "fair share" dues which are 85 percent of the approximately $60 union dues, per month. "Until the issue of closed shop/union representation is resolved, it doesn't appear that the other issues will be addressed," said Kathleen Nickel, the communications director at Mercy Medical Center.

Paul Goldberg, the Oregon Nurses Association union boss, said there was also a proposal that the nurses could pay the equivalent of the "fair share" to a volunteer group associated with the hospital, instead of to the union or possibly to another health care area at the hospital. Nickel said she has not yet heard of this proposal.

Other issues still unresolved are wages, benefits and retirement plans, and management rights. The hospital said it brought a new economic proposal to the negotiations Friday, which the union did not respond to in the meeting, due to the impasse on the close shop issue. The union countered that there were a few changes to the hospital's proposal, but fundamental issues had not been addressed.

Both sides are basing wages on what other hospitals pay, but the disagreement is over which hospitals. ONA says that the smaller hospitals in Cottage Grove, Coquille, and Reedsport, which average between three and 50 patients at a time, are too small and do not compete with Mercy, which averages on the order of 130 patients. These smaller ones should be taken out of the camparison pool, ONA contends.

They did agree on the nurses' step-increases in pay, according to Laura Garren, a nurse who is on the bargaining committee.

The nurses at Mercy voted to join the ONA about a year and a half ago, with about a two-thirds majority, and negotiations began in May 2006.

Kathleen Ross, a registered nurse who has been working at Mercy for 22 years, does not personally support the union.

"The union says that it is about patient safety and patient care, but I hear now that it's about closed shop, whether everybody has to join," she said. "I don't appreciate that, being coerced into paying for someone else's choices or being threatened with losing my job. Everything the union claims is about fairness, but how fair is that."

She does supports the nurses that want the union though, as long as they respect her right to choose.

"I do believe that the ONA and the group of nurses that asked them to come believed they needed representation to get what they wanted," she said. "I sympathize with them and by all means if they need it, I support them, but don't expect them to ask me to pay for it."

She says that there were some issues about patient safety that the administration began working out before the union came and that they have continued to work on with the union.

Garren, who has also been a nurse for over 20 years, says that "fair share" or closed shop is important because having all the nurses part of the union, gives it more bargaining power. Goldberg echoed her, citing why all the nurses must pay the union, not only those who want it.

"Those nurses (who don't want to be part of the union), whether they want to be represented by us, are legally represented by us... whether they want to pay dues, are the beneficiaries of our efforts," he said.