Community Expresses Relief at Strike Resolution
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, May 31, 1998
By DAVID MACE
MORRISVILLE - The strike by Copley Hospital's unionized nurses may be over, but how quickly the wounds it opened in this small community will heal remains to be seen.
It was quiet at the small, 53-bed hospital Saturday, the day after the union accepted a compromise that will bring 74 nurses back to work after a month on strike.
Suzanne Brown, a patient registrar at the hospital, said volunteers and patients she'd spoken with expressed relief that the strike had been settled.
"It's probably mutual for the nurses who were out, and the community, too," she said. "I would imagine (the administration) is glad it's over as well."
Others in the community echoed Brown's sentiments. While most said they were glad the nurses had won concessions from the hospital, others expressed some sympathy for Copley's position.
And even some of the supporters of the Copley Hospital Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Local 5109, admitted that replacement nurses hired in their absence had done a good job caring for patients.
Bob Edebohls of Hardwick said his father had been at Copley for several days and had received "excellent care."
"I hated to cross the picket line, to tell the truth," he said. "But you've got to come here."
The fact that Copley is the only hospital in the area led hospital administrators to call in replacement workers from out of state when the nurses walked out on April 30.
The striking nurses wanted more money, but said that more importantly they objected to the hospital's plans to have them cross-trained in areas they weren't familiar with.
Nurses also wanted guarantees of a set number of hours work each week, instead of being on-call. The hospital compromised, and will allow the hiring of a specialized nurse for every cross-trained nurse who replaces one.
In addition, nurses who are specialized will be guaranteed 65 percent of their hours over several weeks, while those who cross-train will be guaranteed 80 percent.
Kim Disney, vice president for planning, marketing, and development at Copley, called the settlement "a win for our patients ... we're looking forward to having our nurses return to work."
Disney expressed hope that any hard feelings created by the strike would fade.
"Certainly there will be a healing process," she said. "But I recognize that hospitals and nurses are very good at healing, that's what we do for a business. So I'm certain we'll handle it very well."
Sedney Ulrich of Hyde Park said she knew many of the nurses through her work as an emergency medical technician with the Morristown Rescue squad, and supported their demands.
While most in the community said they were glad the nurses had won concessions from the hospital, others expressed some sympathy for Copley's position.
But not everybody's support was unequivocal. Robert Giannattasio of Stowe said he was glad the strike was over, and "didn't know who was right or wrong," but disapproved of some of the strikers' actions.
Giannattasio said he witnessed striking nurses pounding on the car windows of replacement nurses at the hotel where they were staying. "You don't do that in Vermont," he said. "That's like Jimmy Hoffa Teamster tactics."
And one local woman, who asked not to be named, said she had little sympathy for the nurses' position.
"I went to (a managed care health plan) this year," she said. "We had to make a lot of concessions, so I know the hospital must have, too. I can see where (nurses) want to specialize ... but I think you have to be flexible these days, everybody has to."
The woman praised the replacement nurses for "keeping our hospital open ... they could have closed it down and made us drive a couple of hours."
The woman admitted that the issue had split she and her husband, who supported the nurses' demands, and added that she thought some of the wounds created by the often bitter public recriminations by both sides would not quickly heal.
Susan Lucas, the president of the nurses' union, agreed.
"I think the relationship between the nurses who went on strike and the few who remained in the hospital are going to be strained, and I expect them to remain strained for a long time," she said.
"We look at it as we went out on strike to defend quality care ... and the profession of nursing," Lucas said. "It was very difficult for us to see that we had some peers who put money above quality care."
And in terms of the relationship between nurses and management, she said, the friction displayed during the strike was simply a public display of a long-standing dispute.
"I don't see us going back to mend the same relationship, because the dynamic has changed forever inside that hospital," Lucas said.
"That relationship ... was not working. It was one where management dictated and nurses were supposed to follow in line, and that can't happen any more. It's not going to be accepted.
"We're going back into the hospital as a strong union," she said, " and we expect to be equal partners in the delivery of quality patient care, and in issues that affect our professional practice."
But one of the nurses who stayed on the job during the strike, Dale Porter of Hyde Park, expressed hope that relations between strikers and others at the hospital would improve with time.
"It's over, it's done, and hopefully it was a learning process for everybody," she said.
"As the rest of the nurses come back ... hopefully we can all bring what we learned back to the job and make this a better place," Porter said. "I'm looking forward to working with them again."