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County nurses threaten strike

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Nurses at Cook County hospitals are considering a strike as their new union tries to push for a contract just before the spring primary election.
Nurses began voting Monday on whether to authorize a strike. Leaders of the National Nurses Organizing Committee plan to announce the results Thursday and go back to the bargaining table Friday. Their contract expired in November 2004.
"Nurses have been essentially without a contract for going on two years," said Sheilah Garland, the union's Midwest coordinator for collective bargaining. "The talks have stalled."
NNOC took over for the Illinois Nurses Association last spring, promising more aggressive tactics in contract negotiations. The group is the national arm of the California Nurses Association, which won tough minimum-staffing standards in that state.
Garland said the sticking points in this contract are salary, benefits and the right to control staffing levels.
The county's chief negotiator, Jonath an Rothstein, said the county's 50 other unions have been without a contract for the same amount of time, and NNOC was late to the table.
"We met with some of these other groups in August 2004," Rothstein said. "These guys came along a whole year later. ... By county standards this is not unusual."
The union's strike threat could put Cook County leaders in a difficult position, with the election March 21.
Board President John Stroger is counting on strong labor support for his re-election campaign against Commissioner Forrest Claypool. Any interruption of county services also might anger voters who use the hospital. That could create pressure on Stroger to order his negotiating team to back off.
Garland agreed the election is a factor in the union's timing.
"I'm aware of the political process and what's going on; the nurses are aware," Garland said. "We're not trying to hold anybody hostage. ... There's in our contract demands that could be co nstrued as overly generous."
Stroger campaign spokeswoman Anne-Marie St. Germaine said Stroger has a history of good relationships with unions, and she's "disappointed" the nurses union would try to pressure him.

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