Labor-state nurses call in the Teamsters, Hoffa

Teamsters Local 332 president Nina Bugbee issued a call to arms across all union lines, with the announcement that International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James P. Hoffa will be in town Wednesday for a countywide union rally. "This is a little dot on the map for our union president but he sees the writing on the wall," Bugbee told Genesys Regional Medical Center nurses during a meeting on Monday to discuss the possibility of a strike in the wake of Friday's 30-day extension on contract negotiations. "We want this to be a meeting with every union in this county. ...We're gonna send a message. ... The Teamsters nurses are going to take the lead."

The rally is tentatively planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of the Trillium Theatre in Grand Blanc Township.

Nurses were urged to wear Teamsters T-shirts and union buttons and to make protest signs to show solidarity at the Wednesday rally. Bugbee said the Teamsters will also be calling on fellow local unions to lock arms and join them on the pavement.

"It's time to keep the voice loud and strong of unionism in Flint and Genesee County," Bugbee said. "This is about corporate greed. ... This is an attack on unions and on middle-class America."

Contract negotiations began Feb. 21 with the hospital's approximately 1,000 registered nurses. Health care, nurse-to-patient ratios and wages are just some of the items still on the table, Bugbee said.

"Retiree and health care benefits are big issues but nurse-to-patient ratios are really one of the most important things to us," said RN Denise Whaley. "We now mostly have four patients on the cancer floor and if we have five or six who are very critical. That's going to affect their care.

"I know we have more nurses than a lot of other hospitals do and it's great. That's one of the reasons why people come to us."

Hospital officials said they are maintaining their public silence on negotiations and declined comment on the issues raised by the union.

However, they did refute rumors that Ascension Health System is planning to sell Genesys and is pushing for a strike to bust the union to try to make the hospital more palatable to a buyer.

"There is no truth at all to the rumor that Genesys Regional Medical Center is being sold or is for sale," said Genesys media representative Cindy Ficorelli. "We don't have any other comments to make publicly right now. But that rumor has been going on and on, and we decided we had to nip that one in the bud."

Both sides agreed Friday to a 30-day contract extension. The contract now is set to expire June 8.

"We're far apart and far from done. That's it on the bottom line," said Bugbee. "We took the 30-day extension in hopes someplace we'd find a meeting of the minds ... but if they're serious about not compromising and in busting this union, we can't take it sitting down."

The nurses could take a strike vote at any time within the next 30 days, but an actual walkout date can't occur until after June 8. A minimum 10-day notice is also required before a walk-out.

"These 30 days will allow us to ... decide at what point we're going say enough is enough. Based on what I'm seeing now, I will probably be recommending (a strike vote) very soon," said Bugbee. "We really don't want to go on strike. A strike is never a good thing and you only do it when your back is up against the wall. But they're trying to push us against that wall and out (of) the building.

"...There's no sense jumping the gun on this. But I think we're up for the walk and when we do. I think we'll be out for the summer."

Ongoing negotiations scheduled to continue later this week.


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