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1-day nurse strike looks likely

WILKES-BARRE, 12/22/10

The strike, announced by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals on Dec. 11, will begin at 7 a.m. Thursday and end at 7 a.m. Friday.

Bill Cruice, executive director of the union and its lead negotiator, said the strike will be “professional and dignified.” He said it was to protest “bad faith negotiation practices” that have been employed by Community Health Systems Inc., the company that owns the Wyoming Valley Health Care System and General Hospital.

Negotiations between the union and Tennessee-based Community Health Systems have gone on for more than a year and commenced just after the for-profit company purchased the health system in May 2009. A strike was planned for the day before Thanksgiving, but called off on the advice of a mediator when the two sides agreed to head back to the table to negotiate.

Jim McGuire, spokesman for the health system, said the hospital has made plans to ensure patients and doctors will have demands and needs met. He said an undisclosed amount of licensed nurses with a variety of specializations and skilled medical trainings have been contracted through a national nurse staffing agency. The nurses will also participate in a formal hospital orientation program prior to beginning work.

He said that any procedures or surgeries or other routine care visits that are scheduled will go on as planned. He said there will be a seamless transition at 7 a.m. on both days.

"I guarantee you there will not be a gap," McGuire said.

Cruice said the union gave the hospital more than the required 10-day heads up so that adequate plans could be made and personnel could be found. He said it also gave patients adequate time to reschedule procedures or appointments if they wanted to.

While a majority of the union’s 420 nurses will be picketing, Cruice said a handful have decided to cross the line and work. He said union members will not block entrances or make it difficult for patients, staff, visitors or even “scabs” to come and go.

Both Cruice and McGuire said they were holding out hope the strike could be averted, but as of Tuesday afternoon, it didn’t appear either side felt that would happen.

"We remain open to trying to find a fair agreement prior to the strike. Unfortunately, CHS has adopted a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the negotiations and are not bargaining in good faith," Cruice said. When asked if any negotiations are planned prior to Thursday, Cruice said there weren't and added that "based on CHS actions to this point, it doesn’t look like" there will be.

McGuire said that the health system is "looking to find a mutually agreeable solution” and added “we’d certainly like to avoid the strike."

A statement released by McGuire, on behalf of the health system, said, "The hospital and PASNAP remain engaged in negotiations with a federal mediator over a new contract. However, the mediator has scheduled no meetings between now and December 23."

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