WILKES-BARRE — After a five-day strike, nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital were allowed to return to work on Wednesday.
The approximately 450 graduate and registered nurses, who are members of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association local of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), walked the picket line for five days, beginning on Friday. They had been working under the terms of a two-year contract that expired in April 2013.
The hospital declined to comment, and members of the union could not be reached for comment.
Some of the sticking points of the strike included:
• The hospital has offered 1.5 percent annual salary increases in a three-year contract. The union wants 2.75 percent this year and 2 percent the other years.
• The contract includes “longevity” raises for nurses at different years in their career. The hospital wants no retroactive raises, giving them only upon ratification of the contract. The union argues the raises are not tied to a specific date and should already have been paid this January, even though the contract expired last April.
• The hospital wants to “grandmother” some new hires, meaning they would not have to join the union but would still be covered by the union contract. While some current nurses are grand-mothered under terms of the initial unionization, Weale said adding more to that number would be a deliberate attempt to weaken the union, extending union rights and protection to people not paying union dues.
• The hospital wants language in the new contract that would allow changes in health care coverage without union input. Weale said the union was told no changes are planned, but added “There has never been any real trust fostered with us and CHS. We’re not going to ratify a contract that allows them, six months later, to give us entirely different coverage.”
• The union has pushed to include language in the contract regarding staffing that the hospital rejects. Weale said prior contracts addressed staffing in terms of layoffs or furloughs when patient numbers dropped but did not include “staffing grids,” something she said the hospital has internally but does not heed. Putting language in the contract regarding those grids “would hold (the hospital) accountable” for maintaining adequate staffing at all times.
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 continued negotiating with CHS. They reached an agreement on May 3, 2011, and have been working under the terms of that contract that expired in April 2013.
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 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.
CHS owns, operates or leases 208 hospitals in 29 states and is the largest publicly traded hospital company in the country.