WILKES-BARRE — The union representing 460 registered nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital filed unfair labor complaints against the hospital in an attempt to get information to bargain for a new contract.
The nurses, who are members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, have been working under the terms of the old contract that expired April 30, 2013.
The union, in three complaints that were consolidated in an order signed April 23 by an official with the National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia, claimed it has made numerous requests from Wilkes-Barre Hospital Co. LLC. for information, including benefits, wages, mandatory overtime and staffing. A hearing has been scheduled before an administrative law judge of the NLRB on July 14 at the board’s Philadelphia offices.
PASNAP spokesman Jerry Silberman Wednesday said the hospital has been bargaining in bad faith by refusing to provide the information.
“Our goal is to get a contract,” Silberman said.
Negotiations have been ongoing since February 2013 with the most recent meeting on April 8. The nurses held an informational picket on April 21 outside the hospital on River Street.
The hospital that is part of the Commonwealth Health network said in an email, “Wilkes-Barre General Hospital continues to negotiate in good faith with PASNAP and remains committed to the bargaining process. We look forward to presenting our response before the NLRB.”
The relationship between the union and the hospital has been a rocky one since the for-profit, Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems Inc. purchased the hospital and other assets of the Wyoming Valley Health Care System in 2009.
“This is a replay of when they first bought us,” Silberman said.
It took two years to negotiate a contract, he said, adding that there’s been one strike and the hospital waited until the day before the contract expired to present its terms. Last December, the union held a 24-hour strike. The hospital followed with a two-day lockout and hired out-of-state nurses as temporary replacements.
Silberman said the hospital representatives “typically spend about 10 minutes at the table” during the meetings but don’t engage in meaningful discussions. He said he expected the hospital to ask for an extension of the NLRB hearing.
Silberman listed the obstacles to a new contract as health insurance contributions, staffing and wages. “They’re the ones that cut into profits,” he said.