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Union employees set to strike if no deal is made with Chambersburg Hospital

July 03, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Chambersburg Hospital and the union representing about 1,400 of its employees have about two weeks to reach an agreement on a new contract and avoid a strike.

Eighty-three percent of the union members voted Tuesday to send notice of a potential five-day strike to the hospital, according to a statement released by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania. The strike could begin July 17 unless an agreement is reached, according to the statement.

"We certainly don't want to strike and we intend to continue to work hard to try and reach a fair settlement in the coming days," Carla Ross, a registered nurse, said in the statement. "We're united in our commitment to maintaining the high standards that our patients and community deserve."

"It's disappointing that discussions have broken down during this critical stage in negotiations," Summit Health President Norman B. Epstein said in a statement released Wednesday. "However, we remain optimistic that a resolution will be reached without a work stoppage."

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The hospital and union have held a dozen bargaining sessions to date, Epstein said. The last scheduled negotiation session ended Tuesday at 5 a.m., according to the union news release.

The union contract with the hospital expired at midnight on June 30.

Epstein said the hospital had not received a strike notice as of Wednesday. State law requires at least a 10-day written notice of a strike, he said.

The hospital does have a work stoppage plan to continue operating in the event of a strike, Epstein said.

"In the unfortunate event of a strike, we are fully prepared to operate the hospital as it's operated today," he said.

The union represents nursing, clerical, technical, maintenance and other staff.

Union members held a vigil last week at the plaza in front of the Franklin County Courthouse. At the vigil, employees such as physical therapist Jim Kinton expressed concerns about the hospital's proposal to change the pension plan from a traditional defined benefit to a defined contribution plan.

The hospital has posted a surplus of $35 million in the past two years, according to the union. The hospital counters that those surpluses are applied to wages and benefits, along with debt service, improved patient care, expansion of the hospital, education and training.

The hospital statement said further details of the negotiations between the parties will remain private.

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