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Contract talks don't resolve issues

 

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With issues unresolved after a meeting Friday, the local nurses union and Northern Montana Health Care will meet with a federal mediator on Wednesday.

"Other than to say it didn't go very well, I don't want to make any comments," said Bob Ingram, chair of Local No. 12 of the Montana Nurses Association. "We didn't settle any of the major issues."

Butte lawyer Don Robinson, Northern's chief negotiator, said a few issues were resolved Friday. For instance, the hospital offered to liberalize some of its sick leave policies.

"Then the union broke off negotiations about 1:30," he said.

The union representatives said they wouldn't negotiate further until the mediator was present, Robinson said.

Neither side raised the issue of wages, he added.

"We just tried to concentrate on some issues we thought we could get agreement on," he said.

The local submitted 28 proposals to Northern in October. After a meeting in November, 24 proposals were still unresolved, according to union officials, and the union requested mediation early in December.

The union and hospital negotiators met Friday at the suggestion of federal mediator Andy Hall, who wanted the two sides to try to resolve some or all of the proposals still on the table before he joined the talks.

One of the major issues is wages, Ingram has said.

The nurses are concerned about recruitng new staff and retaining them because of Northern's comparatively low wages, Ingram said.

The starting wage for nurses at the hospital is $15.62, the lowest of any of the 13 health care organizations where the union represents nurses, according to the union.

Robinson said today that although Northern doesn't pay as much as hospitals in other areas of the state, the wages and benefits at Northern are "adequate" for the area.

 
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