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UNION DRIVE GETS UNDER WAY AT HOSPITAL

A group of non-union hospital employees, trying to stave off 11.2 percent pay cuts, signed up Monday to start the process of forming a collective bargaining unit.

About 60 of the about 75 non-union employees from Health System of Niagara and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center signed an informal list that was given to a union representative to start the ball rolling. The employees met in the Earl W. Brydges Library to discuss wage and benefit concessions being asked for by Health System.

Lynell Narkiewicz, a senior accountant, and other employees said Health System is asking for concessions totaling about $1.2 million each from unionized and non-unionized employees at Memorial. Health System employees are being asked for $354,000, or 5.6 percent, she said.

Mrs. Narkiewicz said Health System employees are being asked for half the givebacks as Memorial employees because systemwide employees work for both Memorial and Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston. Mount St. Mary's employees are not being asked for concessions now, but the feeling in the room was that that is just a matter of time. If that occurred, they said Health System employees would be asked again for concessions.

Health System spokeswoman Marcia Traverse Monday would not disclose the exact concessions the financially embattled hospital system is seeking because discussions with employees have not been concluded yet.

However, earlier this month Angelo G. Calbone, Health System president, said about $3 million in concessions would be needed from employees across the organization "to bring us financial stability that we don't believe we're going to be able to get through other cost savings."

Losses for 1998 are being estimated at $8 million to $10 million at the medical center and $2 million at St. Mary's, according to Ms. Traverse. She said the deficits are being addressed in three ways, by trying to increase revenues, cutting costs, which has resulted in $5 million in savings, and wage and benefit concessions from union, non-union and management.

The non-union employees, however, don't believe their sacrifice will be enough to make a difference. They fear that even if they agree to the concessions this time, the hospital administration will come back for more, that there will be layoffs anyway, or that the hospital may go into bankruptcy or close.

The employees agreed to write a letter to the Health System board, outlining their concerns, which include poor management and lack of an administrative plan. Several said the hospital is losing money because it does not bill in a timely fashion and insurance companies refuse to pay if bills aren't received in a certain period of time.

Calbone confirmed that "we have experienced problems in getting our bills out. That is improving. A good deal of the problem was when we converted to our new computer system in February."

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