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Copley Nurses Shift Picket Line to Stowe's Commodore Inn
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, May 11, 1998

        Times Argus Staff

   A handful of striking nurses spent Mother's Day picketing, but they were not at Morrisville's Copley Hospital where an ongoing contract stalemate led them to walk off the job just over a week ago.

   Instead, the nurses, members of the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, chose to protest at the Commodore's Inn in Stowe, where a team of temporary nurses has been staying while they fill in at the 53-bed Lamoille County hospital.

   "I'm a nurse and a mother and believe strongly that this is where I should be on Mother's Day," said Ellen Bouchard, a registered nurse and union member. "For all the moms delivering at Copley's Birthing Center, I want a safe unit that has an adequate number of nurses."

   About 10 of a total of 70 striking nurses carried signs and chanted slogans in front of the inn on Route 100, but there were no direct confrontations with nurses from the Denver-based U.S. Nursing Corporation, who were hired by Copley administrators to assume nursing duties when the hospital's own team of registered nurses walked out April 30.

   Officials at the inn said a planned Mother's Day brunch was not disrupted by the picketing, which one worker described as "quiet and nonthreatening."

   Negotiations between the hospital and the nurses broke down after just 90 minutes Thursday with no substantial progress reported. The talks marked the first time the two factions had met face-to-face since the nurses walked off the job a week earlier.

   No new dates have been set for further negotiations.

   "The hospital told us the final offer they gave us just before we went out on strike was still their final offer," said Susan Lucas, a registered nurse and president of the local union. "That shows they have no interest in ending this strike and returning the nurses to the hospital."

   Copley administrators said they expressed "sincere disappointment" that talks ended the way they did, with no agreement on the staffing issues that remain central to the dispute.

   Copley nurses and hospital administrators have already reached a tentative agreement on a wage package, but issues of patient-care and an impasse over adequate staffing levels continue to keep the sides apart.

   Both the nurses and hospital officials are waiting for a federal mediator to set a schedule for negotiations. In the meantime, departments at the hospital remain open staffed indefinitely by the team of temporary nurses.

   Just days after walk-out, Copley began running advertisements for openings for registered nurses, a move administrators describe as a precautionary measure, in the event the the unionized nurses do not return to their jobs.