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Copley Nurses Return To Work

Times Argus Staff

   MORRISVILLE Confident that a new contract addresses the concerns that led to the state's first ever strike by critical care nurses, members of the Copley Hospital Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals this week began returning to their jobs.

   Meanwhile, a team of Denver-based temporary nurses headed for the highways and the airports, their services no longer required at the 53-bed community hospital.

"There certainly needs to be a period of adjustment. But we're all Professionals and we're all adults. We can get through this okay. "

Sue Lucas, union president

   Sue Lucas, a registered nurse and president of the union, said several of the 74 nurses who had been on strike since April 30 returned to work Wednesday morning. The rest will resume their jobs on the basis of hospital scheduling.

   Living for the past month with neither paycheck nor health benefits, the nurses were happy to get back to "doing what they do best," Lucas said.

   The nurses were told of their schedules Tuesday. The nurses had called hospital officials Saturday, one day after the union voted to accept Copley's contract offer, to let them know of their intent to return to work this week.

   While it was basically business as usual inside the hospital by Wednesday afternoon, Lucas said there are still some rough edges to be ironed out over time.

   "Because of the nature of the beast, we've been having some scheduling problems," she said. "But hopefully it can all be worked out."

   Nurses and hospital officials alike have conceded that a period of healing will be necessary before the routine inside the Lamoille County hospital returns to normal.

   As the four-week strike wore on, tension between the two factions mounted, and the stalemate took on a decidedly bitter tone. Rumors and accusations abounded, and some began to wonder if reconciliation was possible.

   This week, however, both sides said they are confident the wounds can be healed and damaged relationships mended.

   "There certainly needs to be a period of adjustment," Lucas said. "But we're all professionals and we're all adults. We can get through this okay."

   In a prepared statement released after last week's vote, Copley President and CEO Caroline Roberts expressed confidence that the nurses and the hospital could work together in an atmosphere of professionalism and mutual respect.

   It is time for the healing to begin, Roberts said.

   The U.S. Nursing Corp. nurses, brought in by Copley officials in anticipation of the union's strike, had assumed the duties of union members, treating their patients while the regular nurses walked picket lines.

   While the contract has not yet officially taken effect, Lucas said that's merely a formality. Lucas said she spoke with the union's negotiator Wednesday, and that the contract is expected to be signed within the next week to two weeks.

   The nurses, who said the contract addresses issues and conditions that they had said threatened patient care, said they will continue to fight for certain issues not covered by contract, such as a switch to a 12-hour work shift.

   'We're coming in here with a lot of strength, and a lot of unity," said Lucas. "We're nurses and this is what we do, so we're all pretty eager to get back to work."