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Mediator To Intervene In Strike
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, May 17, 1998

Staff, Wire Reports

-A federal mediator will come to Vermont on Wednesday in hopes of resolving the two-week-old nurses' strike at Copley Hospital.

   The president of the nurses' union and a hospital spokesperson both said Saturday that a mediator will attend a bargaining session at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel in Morrisville.

    Among the issues in the strike is the degree to which nurses will be required to work in more than one type of hospital unit, the length of their work shifts and guaranteed, weekly hours.

    The last official contact between the two sides was May 7. And, as the weekend approached, it was unclear when a mediator would be available so negotiations would resume.

    However, Sue Lucas, president of the nurses' union at Copley, said she learned late Friday that a mediation session had been scheduled for Wednesday. "We're headed back to the bargaining table," she said.

    Hospital spokeswoman Catherine Disney said she was hopeful that the session would help break the impasse that led nurses to walk off their jobs April 30.

    "Maybe we'll get some movement this time," Disney said.

    In the 10 days that have passed since the last mediation session, both sides have lamented the lack of progress and started fighting for public support:

    The union representing 70 registered nurses is saying that replacement nurses are costly and have been making mistakes that threaten patients.

    Hospital administrators, meanwhile, are decrying the slashing of tires and criticizing the strikers for engaging in a "war of words" in the news media.

    Each side says the other is diverting attention from the real issues of the labor dispute.

    Relevant or not, the rhetorical salvos are clear and calculated: The union calls replacement nurses from U.S. Nursing Corp. in Colorado "rental nurses." It calls its own members "the real Copley nurses."

    A hospital administrator says picketing amounts to "harassment" of community members and patients, and complains that the local union is getting help from out-of-state operatives.

    Much of the union's strategy involves questioning the qualifications of the fill-in nurses.

    "They're outsiders who've come in with the sole purpose of crushing the nurses at Copley Hospital," says Jeanne Jose, a staff organizer with the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

    However, Disney counters: "Because (the replacements) have stepped forward to fill in, we are holding all the jobs open for our nurses to return. If we didn't have U.S. Nursing Corp. or an organization like that, we would have to get full-time replacements now."

    The union claims replacement nurses inappropriately injected a nondiabetic with the diabetes drug insulin, and ignored a patient in the special care unit for more than an hour.

    Disney said the incidents did happen, but added, "These things happen in every hospital, all the time
... It's not unusual; people make mistakes. I find it unusual that they've only been able to find two."

    In another line of attack, the union is saying the hospital might be paying the replacements up to $2,300 a week, or three times the salary of the striking nurses.

    Disney said that's not true, and that it's "almost budget-neutral" to pay the replacement workers instead of paying the salaries and benefits of the strikers.