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Hospital talks go into the night

June 29, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Chambersburg Hospital employees and management Monday afternoon began their last scheduled negotiating session on a new contract, but the hospital is taking steps to deal with a strike that could begin at midnight Wednesday.

Despite contingency plans to keep the hospital running in the event of a walkout, William Flannery, the hospital's chief negotiator, said Monday night that a settlement could be reached overnight.

"We're making progress. We still haven't jumped some of the large hurdles yet," he said at about 9 p.m. "I think there's a very good chance we can reach an agreement," he said.

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Flannery said he considered health care, wages, staffing and mandatory overtime the main obstacles to a settlement.

He said the hospital proposed a change in the pension plan and "we made it clear we're not making any more changes to the pension."

"We can be hopeful. That's one reason we scheduled it for 1 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.," Jim Young, an administrative organizer for District 1199P of the Service Employees International Union said Monday afternoon of Monday's negotiating session. "We just gave them a proposal trying to wrap up some of the noneconomic issues and minor economic issues."

Young also acknowledged then that no agreements had been reached on the issues mentioned by Flannery, along with pensions. He said the two sides began negotiations in May.

The hospital on Friday closed one of four medical/surgical units and canceled elective surgeries scheduled for last Friday, Monday and today, said Carol Cryer, vice president for patient services.

Part of the reason for closing the fifth-floor unit was staffing shortages that have been developing over recent weeks because of leaves of absence, Cryer said Monday. She said nurses suggested closing one unit and consolidating operations but added that the approaching strike deadline played a role in that decision and curtailing elective surgery.

"If we had a full operating room schedule going, we wouldn't have been able to keep the fifth floor closed," Cryer said.

Young said Monday that he expects the hospital will hire temporary nurses through agencies if a strike occurs.

Cryer said that is a common practice at the hospital when there are staffing shortages. Two are on duty now and another four have been hired but will not be on duty until next week, she said.

Vice President of Operations John Massimilla said no extra security has been hired for the hospital as of Monday, although, "It's part of our contingency plan."

Young said he expects some housekeeping, dietary and laundry services to be subcontracted for the duration of any work stoppage.

Young said the union was looking into allegations that some supervisors threatened employees with losing their jobs if they went out on strike.

"We're running these down. It's a serious allegation," Young said. "We have have not talked to anyone who has been directly threatened."

Such threats would result in an unfair labor practice charge being filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Young said.

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