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Registered nurses at Medina Memorial Hospital, who threatened a strike this week, may soon have their first union contract.

The 74 nurses, who joined the United Professional Nurses Association in December 1999, served the hospital with a 10-day strike notice Monday. It declared that a strike would begin at 6 a.m. Thursday unless a deal was reached.

Edwin J. Robisch, the union's chief negotiator, said Thursday the main sticking point was whether the contract should be for three years or four years. He said the hospital wanted the longer term, but its initial wage offer for the fourth year was unsatisfactory.

On Friday, Robisch said a settlement is close. Hospital officials also sounded optimistic. Both sides agreed to slap on a news blackout until 3 p.m. Sunday, when the nurses have called a rally at the Crossroads restaurant.

David G. McCarroll, the hospital vice president of human resource and support services, even hinted that hospital officials may attend the rally.

"I think we resolved all our substantive differences. . . . We worked it out on the fourth year," said James N. Schmit, a Buffalo lawyer handling the negotiations for the hospital, before the blackout was imposed. "I do anticipate the signing of a tentative agreement in the near future."

Any contract would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000.

Schmit said he thought the strike notice would be withdrawn Friday, but that did not happen.

"The (negotiating) team didn't want to be locked into a fourth year at a low wage," Robisch had said Thursday, adding the Medina nurses were seeking pay similar to that at Lockport Memorial Hospital and Newfane Inter-Community Memorial Hospital.

Robisch said, "The wages have just been so terrible (at Medina) that even in this contract we can't catch up."

Robisch said the wage system has been so haphazard that the 74 nurses are earning 41 different rates of pay, ranging from about $14.50 per hour to about $21 per hour. He said because of market conditions at the time of hiring, there are some nurses with eight years' experience making less than some colleagues who have been on the job for three or four years.

"The important thing is the establishment of a salary schedule. Some people could get a $2-an-hour raise; some people could get a 20-cent-an-hour raise," Robisch said.

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