By Tim Leeds
Cars were lined up in front of Northern Montana Hospital this morning to show support for local nurses in their contract negotiations with Northern Montana Health Care.
About 20 cars were parked on both sides of 13th Street in front of the hospital with signs in their windows. Most read, "Support Havre's registered nurses."
The nurses union voted recently to approve concerted actions, such as parking the cars with the signs. Other possible actions could include informational picketing, taking out advertisements or asking for support from other unions, said Bob Ingram, chairman of Local No. 12 of the Montana Nurses Association.
Kathie Newell, spokeswoman for Northern Montana Health Care, said the administration had no comment about the cars.
Negotiators for Local No. 12 will meet with the hospital's negotiators Friday. The meeting was requested by a federal mediator, who is scheduled to come to Havre Jan 29-30.
The nurses, who have been working without a contract since Nov. 30, asked in December for mediation of the negotiations.
The hospital's lead negotiator, attorney Don Robinson of Butte, has said that the hospital is interested in resolving the issues Friday.
That's good to hear, Ingram said today. But Robinson's remark that the hospital's position hasn't changed is troubling, he said.
The hospital has offered counterproposals on only four of 28 proposals presented by the union, according to both sides.
If both sides go into negotiations unwilling to compromise, that isn't negotiating, Ingram said.
Ingram said the 24 proposals boil down to just a few issues and that a major issue is wages.
He said it's difficult to attract and keep nurses, especially during a nationwide nursing shortage, when a health care organization pays low wages.
Montana Nursing Association labor relations specialist Raymond Berg said the starting wages for registered nurses at the hospital, $15.62 an hour, are the lowest of the Montana health care organizations where the union represents nurses.
He said it's difficult to compare wages for more experienced nurses. Variables, such as what part of the hospital the nurse works in and what shifts are scheduled, make comparing wages very complicated.
Comparisons are simpler for nurses employed at the clinic. Of the 13 organizations where the union represents nurses, the Havre clinic also pays the lowest starting wage, $12.81, which is $4.07 an hour less than the average, according to the union.
The clinic pays $16.71 an hour for a registered nurse with 20 years of experience, while other union clinics pay as much as $22.22 an hour, $5.51 more.
In an environment where other hospitals and health care organizations are offering to pay a signing bonus and moving expenses as well as higher wages, Ingram said, it will be difficult to attract and keep nurses at Northern.
The union represents about 100 of about 150 nurses employed by Northern Montana Health Care.