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Crozer-Chester nurses one step closer to potential strike

Delaware County Times, 5/28/11

By KATHLEEN E. CAREY
Saturday, May 28, 2011

The 700-member Crozer-Chester Nurses Association voted to authorize a strike this week in the event bargaining with Crozer-Keystone Health System officials breaks down.

And a Crozer-Keystone executive said the company would put a former proposal into place if the union doesn’t accept Crozer-Keystone’s most recent proposal June 2, six days ahead of the contract expiration date.

Since March, members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals, the union parent for the Crozer nurses, have been negotiating with representatives from Crozer-Keystone.

On Wednesday, the Crozer nurses voted 512-13 to authorize the bargaining committee to send a 10-day strike notice to the company.

“A notice has not yet been sent,” said Bill Cruice, PASNAP executive director. “We may or may not send the 10-day strike notice. It depends on whether progress is being made on negotiations.”

Cruice said the union would consider working beyond the contract expiration date, but other alternatives are also being weighed.

“The strike could be one day, three days or it could be more than that,” he said. “At this time, we haven’t made any decisions. We will determine whether or not a notice will be sent as negotiations continue.”

Company officials stated their desire for an agreement.

“We hope there won’t be a strike,” said Kathy Scullin, vice president of marketing for Crozer-Keystone. “We don’t think there’s any need for the union to threaten a strike. We remain open to discussing any reasonable proposals with the union.”

The last contract was negotiated in 2008 and ends June 8.

Scullin said the company would replace the existing contract with one of its proposals if the union has not approved an agreement by next week.

“This contract is about economics,” she said. “Our best offer package expires if it is not accepted and ratified by 11:59 June 2. If this best offer is not accepted by that date, we will reinstate our former package, which contains more modest increases.”

Scullin said Crozer-Keystone officials have been negotiating since March in hopes of attaining an early agreement and do not want an extensive negotiation period.

The major issue of contention, according to Cruice, is staffing levels.

“Too often, nurses believe, they do not have the numbers of staff that enable them to give patients the care that they deserve,” he said.

Cruice added that the union proposed nurse-to-patient ratios, such as emergency-room nurses not having to care for more than three patients at a time, depending on the severity of the patients.

“The hospital, so far, has refused to agree to the ratios,” he said.

Scullin said the system already has adequate staffing ratios in place.

“From a staffing perspective, we have very good staffing patterns at Crozer,” she said, adding that the system’s levels are comparable to hospitals of similar size in the area.

She added, “Our staffing levels are safe, and they meet or exceed legal and regulatory requirements.”

In addition, she said Crozer nurses are compensated well.

“The nurses are the highest paid nurses in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” she said.

Other issues that remain unresolved are pension plan and health care issues, according to Cruice.

“It’s doubtful that wages will be an issue that will cause a strike,” he added.

Scullin reiterated her wish for a strike to be averted.

“We don’t think there’s any need for a strike,” she said. “We’re asking them to please consider our current offer so we can settle this contract now without the uncertainty of prolonged negotiations and a possible strike.”

Union officials said Crozer could meet its ratio proposals.

“The irony is that Crozer is doing better financially now than they have in a very long time,” Cruice said. “While they’re not a wealthy hospital, … they have $236 million in cash stashed away.”

He said that reserve had been $110 million a few years ago.

“They’re doing better financially,” Cruice continued, “and, we think those resources should be invested in better nurse staffing.”

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