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County nurses set Friday for walkout

Monday, June 19, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

The spotlight will be on 1,800 Cook County registered nurses this week, whose union vowed earlier this month to stage a one-day strike Friday if no contract agreement is reached by then.

Key economic issues remain unresolved.

The two sides last met June 6, said Sheilah Garland Olaniran, a spokeswoman for the National Nurses Organizing Committee/ California Nurses Association. The union represents RNs at three hospitals, more than 20 community clinics, four public health offices, the county jail and the juvenile detention center.

The nurses voted by a 97 percent margin in March to authorize the union to call a strike if necessary to land an acceptable contract.

"We're continuing to negotiate," said Jonathan Rothstein, special assistant for labor relations to Cook County Board President John Stroger. "I certainly hope that we will be able to avoid a strike."

If a strike takes place, the county has a contingency plan, he said, declining to provide detail.

Negotiators will meet Thursday. Staffing levels, pay, maintenance of health benefits and overtime pay issues remain on the agenda.

"It's really up to the county," Olaniran said when asked about the prospects that a strike will be avoided. "They know very clearly what the nurses' concerns and issues are. [Nurses] have been very clear that the county needs to get concessions off the table."

She added that a major stumbling block is agreement on a staffing-level enforcement mechanism.

"We want an enforcement mechanism, so when a nurse makes a recommendation when there's a staffing pattern we consider unsafe, there's a mechanism in place" for enforcement, she said.

Rothstein declined to discuss the county's proposals.

Current annual pay for lower-level Cook County RNs ranges from $46,000 to $71,000, and specialty nurses' pay ranges from $60,000 to $92,000, according to county representatives. The nurses contribute $208 a year for family health care coverage.

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