Layoffs Rile Forum Labor Unions

George Nelson, Youngstown Business Journal, October 22, 2009

Youngstown - Unions blasted plans by Forum Health Inc. to lay off 52 employees as the health care system seeks a bankruptcy judge’s permission to pay its former CEO for consulting services - a proposal that Walter J. Pishkur says he will discuss at a news conference this morning.

The Service Employees International Union District 1199 said Wednesday that Forum Health employees are “outraged” after learning of 52 layoffs announced by the health care system, including 22 “direct care providers” represented by the union. “While direct care positions are being eliminated, Forum Health continues to push through bankruptcy court their proposal to retain former CEO Walter ’Buzz’ Pishkur,” the union said in a prepared statement.

Tom Connelly, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees/United Nurses of America Local 2026, also criticized the layoffs, which he said affected “largely auxiliary personnel.” The layoffs aren’t impacting any of the nurses he represents at TMH, but, as regional vice president of AFSCME Council 8, he is concerned for the members of Local 2804 who are being impacted.

Connelly said he learned through the grapevine that 32 employees are being laid off at Northside and “a few” at Trumbull, although he acknowledged he was getting “conflicting” reports Wednesday evening about the extent of the layoffs.

“We’ve trimmed ourselves so much that we don’t feel these layoffs are necessary, and they just contribute to a lot of ill will between the unions and management,” Connelly said. The layoffs are “another example” that the board of directors doesn’t know what to do, and he doesn’t know why the board thought Forum’s work force would settle for the layoffs of dietary workers, carpenters or direct-care providers when they are seeking to pay Pishkur up to $9,000 per week for consulting services and $75,000 per month for a company to provide with an interim CEO.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Connelly said.

Hearings on both motions by Forum are scheduled for Tuesday. The motion to retain Pishkur as a consultant to Forum‘s management already has drawn an objection from the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, a filing his union is “firmly behind,” Connelly said.

“We just feel that we’re firmly in the hands of the creditors right now,” he lamented. “We don’t know if we’re going to be sold. We don’t know if restructuring is possible. There’s a lot more questions than answers right now.”

Pishkur, who resigned from Forum as CEO last month, has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 AM to discuss his future role with the health care system. Also expected to speak at the media event will be Eric Williams, president of the Ohio Nurses Association/Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, who was critical of the secured creditors’ apparent control of Forum following Tuesday‘s hearing in US Bankruptcy Court.

In a written statement issued Wednesday afternoon in response to the SEIU’s statement, Forum said it is “realigning staffing to reflect current market realities” as part of its reorganization process, “primarily in the areas of non-patient care, management and health system positions to ensure no impact on patient care.” The reductions are to be obtained though a combination of attrition, job restructuring and layoffs.

Impacted employees were notified individually on Monday, with the reductions expected to take place by December, Forum said in the statement. Specific figures were not released.

“While difficult, these actions are necessary to maintain a competitive position in the marketplace in the face of difficult economic conditions impacting all hospitals and health care providers, not only locally but across the state and country,” Forum said.

Workers at Northside Medical Center, Trumbull Memorial Hospital and the billing office have scheduled a news conference for later today “to address their concerns over the poor decisions made by hospital management.”

Copyright 2009 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.