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After 14 months of at-times contentious bargaining and a strike threat, the 74 registered nurses at Medina Memorial Hospital ratified a new contract this week.

Also this week, more than 400 nonunion employees at the hospital were handed almost everything the nurses bargained for -- virtually the same wage and benefit improvements.

Jane Reinard, president of the hospital's unit of the United Professional Nurses Association, said she thinks the hospital's move was an effort to forestall further unionization.

"We're happy that they're able to benefit from our hard work, but at the same time it's a slap in the face to us," Reinard said.

Mary Kargbo, the hospital's chief operating officer, said, "We've always had a philosophy that we treat our employees equally."

Asked if giving the other workers the same deal as the unionized nurses was fair to the union, Kargbo said, "I don't know. I'm just saying we've been treating all our employees equally."

That's not what the nurses thought when they unionized in December 1999. They discovered that the hospital was paying the 74 nurses 41 different wages, and that some nurses on the job for three or four years were earning more than colleagues with eight years of experience.

Kargbo confirmed that the nonunion employees will get just about everything the union members will get. "And no (union) dues," she added.

The union's deal hikes the hospital's nursing salary costs by about 12 percent over the life of the contract, which expires Dec. 31, 2003. Raises for individuals vary widely because of the crazy quilt of salaries, which were replaced by a salary scale for the first time.

Reinard said the hospital's move was not that much of a surprise.

"This is what the rumor has been the whole time," she said. "The joke has been that we're negotiating for the whole hospital."

She added, "When we were negotiating for time and a half for the holidays last November and we got a verbal agreement, the very next day there was a memo posted, telling the nonunion employees they would get time and a half from now on."

But Reinard said there's one thing the union has that the other employees don't. "We have binding arbitration (for grievances)," she said.

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