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Chambersburg Hospital, union panel agree on contract, apparently averting strike

July 10, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Chambersburg Hospital and the union negotiating committee representing about 1,300 of its employees reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract Wednesday night, with the membership set to vote on the proposed contract today.

The tentative agreement, if approved by the membership, will head off a threatened strike by members of the Service Employees International Union, who had voted earlier this month to authorize a five-day strike that would have begin July 17. Ten days' notice is required under Pennsylvania law before health-care workers can strike.

The union's contract with the hospital expired on July 1.

"The hospital is delighted that a new tentative agreement has been reached. However, we are unable to disclose any details of the tentative agreement until after the membership votes to approve and sanction the contract today," said hospital spokeswoman Sheran White. "The negotiating committee did unanimously agree to recommend to the membership that they ratify the proposed new contract."

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Union members will be voting throughout the day on the contract, according to a press release from the SEIU. A press conference to discuss the outcome of the vote and details of the contract will be held at 9 p.m. in the Franklin Fire Hall, it stated.

One of the main sticking points in the negotiations had been the hospital's plan to switch from a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension plan. Union members objected that they would receive less in retirement benefits if the hospital made that switch.

The union also argued that the hospital had piled up surpluses of $35 million in the past two years and could therefore afford to maintain existing retirement benefits. The hospital countered that its pay and benefits are generous, with salaries ranging from $24,000 to more than $100,000.

Summit Health President Norman Epstein said last week the hospital had a strike plan to operate in case of a work stoppage.

Earlier this week, the hospital said two more negotiating sessions were scheduled.

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