Last updated: December 03. 2013 11:16PM - 2867 Views
BILL O’BOYLE boboyle@timesleader.com

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Key issues

• The unresolved issues in the ongoing dispute between Community Health Systems and its unionized nurses include:

• Wages

• Benefits, especially health care costs

• Mandatory overtime shifts

• Unfilled vacancies

• Staffing levels

WILKES-BARRE – Striking nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital will have two more days off without pay because Community Health System decided to lock them out.

The Tennessee-based company said the lockout is a result of the corporation fulfilling “a commitment made to temporary, replacement registered nurses for a 72-hour period, which was required in order to secure competent, qualified nurses.” Unionized workers had been expecting to return to their jobs at 7 a.m. today after a one-day strike to protest protracted labor negotiations.

“Nurses who did not report to duty during the strike period are expected to return beginning at 7 a.m. on (Friday), at the conclusion of the 72-hour engagement of the temporary nurses who filled their vacated positions,” a CHS release statement said.

CHS spokesman Jim McGuire said since earlier this year the hospital has been negotiating in good faith with the union by putting forth fair proposals.

“We remain committed to the collective bargaining process and to maintaining a positive relationship with our employees and their bargaining agents,” McGuire said.

McGuire said hundreds of Wilkes-Barre General Hospital employees were on the job Tuesday, providing high-quality care for several hundred patients. He said the hospital continued all inpatient, outpatient and emergency services during the one-day strike by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the union that represents registered nurses at the hospital.

“About a quarter of the hospital’s registered nurses scheduled to work this morning have crossed the picket line to work alongside other non-represented employees, including licensed practical nurses, surgical techs and other caregivers, as well as with physicians on the medical staff and experienced, temporary replacement nurses,” a CHS release stated.

Supporting nurses

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright sent a letter to Cornelio Catena, chief executive officer at Wilkes-Barre General, urging him to return to bargaining “without delay” to reach a fair contract with the nurses. Cartwright also addressed the nurses’ claim that CHS has been mandating overtime shifts for nurses.

Cartwright told Catena that Pennsylvania Act 102 prohibits health-care facilities from requiring employees to work overtime without their agreement. He said that if CHS is mandating nurses work overtime to cover shifts, as has been alleged, that is a violation of state law.

“This matter concerns me greatly, as both an abuse of labor standards and a threat to public health,” Cartwright wrote. “If nurses are overworked or overloaded, patients suffer the consequences.”

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