WB General Hospital nurses give strike notice

By Jerry Lynott jlynott@civitasmedia.com

June 25, 2014

WILKES-BARRE — A strike notice failed to produce a new contract for registered nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in their bargaining session Wednesday.

The nurses represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals have been working under the terms of a contract that expired April 30, 2013. They’ve been negotiating even longer, going back to February of last year.

Union spokeswoman Emily Rodriguez expressed hope that the two sides would reach an agreement during the latest session. Sticking points have been health insurance contributions, wages and staffing.

Rodriguez said the union is trying to avoid a strike, having given notice that that might be the next step in the protracted discussions.

“Nothing is definite,” Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Renita Fennick, a spokeswoman for Commonwealth Health, the regional network of hospitals that includes WBGH, said negotiations are ongoing.

The union representing 460 registered nurses has taken to the picket lines even before the hospital was purchased by for-profit Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tennessee, in 2009.

Nurses went on strike on Jan. 30, 2003, when the Wyoming Valley Health Care System operated the facility. WVHCS locked out the workers for 10 days and hired replacement workers. The dispute ended when a new agreement was reached on Feb. 14.

A similar scenario played out on Dec. 3, 2013.

The union held a 24-hour strike and was locked out two more days while temporary workers staffed their shifts.

The nurses also held a 24-hour strike from Dec. 23 to 24 in 2010, but it was not extended by a lockout, as they sought their first contract with the new owner. They reached an agreement on May 3, 2011, and have been working under the terms of the contract that expired nearly two years later.

The union filed unfair labor complaints against Wilkes-Barre Hospital Co. LLC in April, claiming it made numerous requests to the company for information in order to be able to bargain for a new contract. The NLRB set a hearing date for July 14 in Philadelphia.