ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - It's countdown to a strike for UPMC Altoona and its registered nurses. On Monday afternoon, neither side in the labor dispute indicated any hope that the walkout scheduled for 7 am Tuesday, February 11 could be averted. Both say they had no choice.
At a news conference called by UPMC Altoona, Hospital CEO and President Jerry Murray said UPMC has brought in 270 replacement nurses and has been preparing them to fill in.
He expects about a fourth of the union RNs to cross the picket line. The strike breakers, the replacement nurses and other employees can park elsewhere and be bused to the hospital, to avoid picketers.
The hospital says extra security will be on hand, managers will be out on hospital floors, and the State Health Department will be there to make sure correct procedures are being followed.
Other than that, the hospital's Chief Operating Officer Ron McConnell said it will be business as usual, except for the picketers.
"We want to ensure the public that we are fully open for business, fully staffed with high quality nurses and our services in this community will continue," McConnell said.
SEIU Union Chapter President Paula Stellabotte said, "I think some people are a little nervous but everybody it totally united and I think if we can thank UPMC for one thing, they really brought the best out in these nurses and they're standing together.
Nurses say they're striking to fight proposed changes in staffing and benefits. The hospital on Monday accused SEIU Healthcare of using the strike to help its efforts to unionize nurses at UPMC in Pittsburgh.
The nurses say they'll be back on the job Wednesday morning at 7, but the hospital says its contract with the replacement nurses lasts for at least four days.