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What might be a final contract negotiation session between Brooks Memorial Hospital and the union representing nurses and technical personnel before a strike is called will begin with a federal mediator at 4:30 p.m. today at an undisclosed local location.

According to the union, the New York State Nurses Association, members rejected the hospital's final offer on Sept. 15 and authorized a strike in case negotiations failed. The contract expired June 30.

Richard Ketcham, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, said Tuesday the required 10-day strike notice has not been issued. In 1991, a strike notice was given and the hospital made the necessary preparations, but a new contract was reached during the 10-day period.

The union stated the sticking points are "unreasonable givebacks, a poor economic package and the length of the proposed contract, which is three years."

Also, the union claims the salary increases are only 2.5 percent over three years.

Ketcham refuted the union's statements. He said the salary offer was 1 percent in each of the three years in addition to longevity increments.

The health insurance offer is to have the hospital pay the average premium for a health maintenance organization, with the employee paying the differential for the "traditional Blues." Ketcham said the offer will cost 11 people in the bargaining unit, but there will be no increase for another 33 employees.

"The hospital will pay the same percentage of health insurance premiums as now, but only for HMOs," he said.

Also, there are no cuts in benefits such as sick time or vacation time, he said.

While the union objected to a one-day notice for layoffs, Ketcham said that provision is in the current contract.

He also said the hospital has had three contracts with the union, all for three years. The union said that it wants a shorter term in order to be able to renegotiate "if times get better and the hospital's finances improve."

Both parties said they are concerned about recruitment and retention of staff and the area's quality of health care.

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