Nurses Negotiations Break Down

By Jim Madalinsky

Published 02/01 2014 07:19PM

Updated 02/01 2014 08:25PM

ALTOONA - Negotiations between UPMC Altoona and members of the SEIU Nurses Union continued Saturday, but did not have the ending either side was hoping for. Both sides are now preparing for a one day strike.

Here are statements from both the hospital and union.

From Union Spokesperson Karen Gownley:

On Saturday afternoon, UPMC Altoona management walked away from the negotiating table, rejecting nurses’ efforts to compromise and avoid a one-day strike.

“UPMC is disrespecting nurses and the Altoona community by cutting off discussions and making a strike all but inevitable,” said Paula Stellabotte, RN from the ICU. “We were prepared to continue negotiating until we had a contract and it’s frustrating that management did not share that commitment.”

Nurses now move forward with plans to hold a one-day unfair labor practice strike on February 11th.  UPMC, a $10 billion global health enterprise, acquired Altoona Regional hospital last year.

“As nurses and Altoona area residents, our goals are to ensure quality care and quality jobs for our community under healthcare giant UPMC,” continued Stellabotte.

800 registered nurses at the hospital are members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

From UPMC Altoona Spokesperson Dave Cuzzolina:

The union and the hospital agreed earlier in the week to return to the bargaining table yesterday and today to talk about two specific issues. The union reneged on that agreement by bringing to the table this morning a much broader agenda that only distracted from the important issues we had agreed to talk about.

The hospital has been bargaining in good faith for four months and done everything reasonable to find common ground and reach an agreement. We believe we have offered a contract that is fair to our nurses and to the community, including local businesses and employees who must pay for health care.

We have the highest respect for our nurses and believe they want what’s best for patients, the same as we do. What we do not respect is a rigid bargaining position that attempts to go over old ground again and again and again.

Despite the union saying its primary concerns are not economic, the talks have inevitably gravitated to economic issues.

Even though the average wage for nurses at UPMC Altoona is twice the average income for someone in the Altoona area, we are offering salary increases of 2 percent for each year of a three-year contract. The nurses have agreed to that but with conditions that effectively double the raises being offered.

SEIU members at Mount Nittany recently ratified a three-year contract with the same wage increases being offered here — a 2 percent raise in each year of a three-year contract. Heritage Valley Beaver recently signed a new contract with SEIU which provides for no base salary increases.

As far as benefits, the hospital is proposing the same programs that other UPMC hospitals have in place for more than 62,000 employees, including more than 11,000 nurses.

UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider that is ranked No. 10 in the nation and No. 1 Pennsylvania on the U.S. News & World Report “America’s Best Hospitals” list.

Its program of employee benefits is highly competitive and includes medical, prescription, dental, vision, short-term disability, long-term disability, life insurance, pension, matched savings, paid time-off, tuition assistance, and more.

It defies logic to claim that the benefits UPMC offers — and successfully recruits with — in numerous other markets in Western Pennsylvania are somehow insufficient for this area.

We acknowledge that there is give and take in our proposal, but that is the nature of integration into a larger health care system.

If there is a strike, we plan to continue all services without interruption, including inpatient care and all outpatient testing, surgeries, and procedures. The hospital, Surgery Center, and Station Medical Center will operate as usual, as will the Emergency Department and Trauma Service.

The hospital will be fully staffed with Pennsylvania licensed registered nurses who embody the high standards our patients expect and deserve. These registered nurses are experienced, highly qualified, and specially trained.

Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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