ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - Nurses at UPMC Altoona were only supposed to be on strike for one day, but many still found themselves on the picket line, Wednesday.
Nearly 800 registered nurses work at UPMC Altoona. Only 31 of the striking RNs were back on the job, Wednesday. A large number remained outside the hospital, marching, chanting, and waving to drivers who honked their horns.
These nurses say a large group of them tried to go back to work Wednesday, but the hospital turned them away. Instead, they're being called back in phases.
Jaime Weigand was one of those asked to leave by hospital police. She says, "we feel disrespected. We feel this is a punitive measure. I along with these other hundred nurses, we want to get back to work and resume our normal duties."
Weigand continued, "I characterize this as a walkout. We are here to work. We are at the door ready to go, punch in and they're telling us we can't. That's a lockout."
UPMC Altoona's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linnane Batzel disagrees, saying, "it's not a lockout. It's a transition back and I am not an attorney and I'm not on the negotiating team and I'm not an expert on that, but it is not a lockout."
Dr. Batzel says she can understand why some nurses think the transition strategy is punitive, however she says it's really a matter of finances. In her words, "we had to hire some nurses to work yesterday and to get nurses to come here, they don't want just one day of work, especially if you want experienced nurses." She says the hospital had to agree to a multi-day contract.
The UPMC RNs, members of SEIU Healthcare, have accused the hospital of spending more than a million dollars on the replacement nurses and their expenses. UPMC officials say it is expensive, but necessary and declined to give numbers.
In addition to the 31 recalled for Wednesday, another 28 have been called back to work on Thursday. UPMC Altoona says all local RNs will be back on the job by Monday.
Nurses scheduled a community rally Wednesday night at the Altoona Area High School auditorium. They say they'll take busloads of picketers to Pittsburgh on Thursday to demonstrate at UPMC headquarters.
Negotiations between the two sides are scheduled to resume on February 18, 19, and 20.