Hospital’s lead negotiator was expected to take the stand, but didn’t

Last updated: July 16. 2014 11:59PM - 2614 Views
By Jon O’Connell joconnell@civitasmedia.com

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Tensions have been high since the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association contract expired last April.

Wilkes-Barre General Hospital Co., which is owned by the for-profit hospital chain Community Health Systems, employs about 450 union registered nurses. The nurses earn between $20 and $32 hourly.

Key issues:

• Nurses who crested a new pay-scale tier as defined by the old contract believe they should still get their employment longevity raise.

• During a one-day strike on Dec. 3, a hospital security guard instructed three striking nurses they couldn’t distribute pamphlets to patients outside the Thomas P. Saxton Medical Pavilion in Kingston.

• The union accuses the hospital of withholding or delaying information it will use to evaluate perceived staffing needs including mandatory overtime shift schedules, information relating to the each department’s nurse-to-patient ratio and call-off statistics.

PHILADELPHIA — A key witness did not take the stand Wednesday in the Federal Labor Relations Board case against Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

Both sides rested their cases wrapping up three days of testimony before administrative law Judge Susan Flynn without testimony from lead hospital negotiator, James P. Carmody.

On Monday, defense attorney Carmen DiRienzo said Carmody was to take the stand on Wednesday. It seemed news he was not going to testify came as a surprise to the judge and prosecuting attorneys.

The trial is the result of a complaint filed by the labor board alleging the hospital acted in bad faith while negotiating a contract between the hospital and the union, which — among other things — alleges hospital officials denied or delayed in producing documents the union clams are necessary for effective bargaining.

It appeared to be a surprise to opposing attorneys and the judge Wednesday that Carmody was not going to testify.

Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) representative Jerry Silberman declined to comment about the defense’s decision to close without Carmody’s testimony. Carmody has been at the helm of contract negotiations between the hospital and Wyoming Valley Nurses Association, the PASNAP Local.

However, the representative said he remains confident in the union argument’s validity.

“(The labor board) wouldn’t have went to complaint if they didn’t think there was a solid possibility of merit,” Silberman said. “Our position is that all of our charges have merit. They put on their best defense. We put on our best defense.”

DiRienzo also declined to comment on pulling Carmody’s testimony. She does not comment on a pending case, she said.

The hospital’s 450 union nurses have been working under the terms of an old contract that expired in April of last year.

Hospital officials maintain they continue to bargain in good faith and seek a contract that suits both the union and the hospital.

Pay raise issues

In addition to receiving complete staffing documents, union officials insist the hospital should restore pay raises that were suspended when the contract expired.

Hospital employee and Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Goble was the only one to take the stand Wednesday.

She told union attorney Jonathan Walters the hospital had not given employees longevity wage increases since the contract expired.

The calm proceedings grew heated for a few moments as union attorney Henry Protas sought clarification on a complicated pay structure laid out in the old contract.

The contract explains how employees are eligible for incremental or step wage increases after hitting landmark years. In addition to the step increases, employees are to receive an annual percentage wage increase.

At the start of 2014, no union employees received pay raises. The union argues there is case law that requires the step increases to continue in the case of an expired contract, while the annual 2.7 percent raise defined in the old contract would lapse.

Goble gave no explanation why employees who passed the threshold this winter did not get their wage increase.

Decision months off

Neither party made closing arguments, rather opted to file briefs with Flynn by Sept. 17 to conclude their cases — a common practice in labor court.

The hospital is not facing criminal charges. If found guilty, any monetary reward would be in the form of back pay to employees for time lost filling union duties or attending court proceedings. The judge also could decide to require the hospital to pay the wage increases.

After the briefs are filed, Flynn’s review process that will take time, possibly longer than a month, she said.

“That also gives you time to reconsider (the contract),” Flynn said. “You may have a contract by then, folks.”

During a short recess, Goble and union Local representative Terry Marcavage discussed scheduling the next contract negotiations, which could take place as early as next month.

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