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Nurses give OK to strike

Friday, March 03, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Nurses at Cook County's hospitals and clinics overwhelming endorsed a possible strike, union leaders announced Thursday.
Of the about 1,750 nurses represented by the union, 1,151 voted to authorize a strike, and 42 opposed it. That gives union leaders the power to call a strike in coming weeks if they want.
"The nurses mandate is very clear: The stalling has to stop," said Sheilah Garland, Midwest collective bargaining coordinator for the union. "It's not going to be business as usual."
Both sides plan to return to the bargaining table today. The nurses have been without a contract since November 2004. The sticking points are salary, benefits and staffing levels, union officials say.
Cook County Board President John Stroger sounded a conciliatory note Thursday, saying he understood nurses' concerns and will check in with his negotiating team, but promising to strike a deal that was fair for county taxpayers. All of the county's other unions also are working without contracts, and the county has faced budget deficits of $70 million or more for the past several years.
"We don't want to see a strike," Stroger said. "I'd have been with that 1,200 (who voted for a strike) if I was a nurse. This is their economics."
The last actual Cook County nurses strike was 30 years ago, when nurses walked off the job for 38 days. But nurses have voted repeatedly to authorize strikes since. They came within one day of a strike in 1988, causing Cook County Hospital's emergency room to shut down.
Stroger said the county will make similar preparations this time if a strike looms. But he said he's optimistic continued negotiations will prevent it.
"I take every threat to the government seriously; I'd be stupid if I didn't," Stroger said.
Provident Hospital nurse Dana Beatty, of South Holland, who's also on the negotiating team, said she and her colleagues don't want to strike, but feel ready to.
"We're standing behind our core issues," Beatty said.

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