SEIU strike threat for bargaining purposes

The union that represents 800 registered nurses at Altoona (PA) Regional Health System will issue a 14-day strike notice Thursday after members voted Tuesday in favor of their negotiating committee’s recommendation not to approve a proposed contract. The union doesn’t want to strike, but officials hope that serving notice with the National Labor Relations Board will get the hospital back to bargaining to work out a deal the union says went awry hours before its expected completion Monday.

Union members would need to take another vote before they could strike.

On Monday night, the hospital board rejected its negotiating committee’s recommendation to ratify a contract that was finished, except for details on staffing levels, mandatory overtime and nurse input to work out — “derailing” six months of negotiation, unionists said.

The board’s refusal to let the union charge “representation fees” of 87 percent of normal dues to nurses who don’t join the union seems to have been key to the derailment.

“A lot hinged” on that decision not to grant “union security,” said Monica Liebal, a hospital spokeswoman who works in the human resources department. The leadership of the medical staff and the board agreed that nurses need their “freedom of choice,” she said.

Without the “open shop,” the hospital would have had to terminate those who refused to contribute, Liebal said.

The union opposes an open shop because “we want everybody to stand together,” said Paula Stellabotte, a member of the union negotiating team. “We want to talk as one voice,” as befits the “democratic process” that resulted in unionization last May, she said.

Hospital management recently received a petition signed by 119 nurses calling for the open shop.

“We are pleased that they wish to give the RNs freedom of choice,” said Monica Morroni-McMahon, who signed the petition.

“Why do I need a union to represent me, when I feel I’ve been treated adequately?” asked Morroni-McMahon, a 26-year hospital veteran.

The union wanted the “agency shop” for the fees it would generate, said Ron McConnell, the hospital’s chief operating officer.

“Do the math,” McConnell wrote in an e-mail. “If 400 full-time RNs choose not to join the union, that equals more than $1 million in dues/fees for [the Service Employees International Union] over the life of a three-year contract.”

Regular dues are 1.8 percent of salary, capped at $72 a month, while fees in lieu of membership are 87 percent of dues, officials indicated.


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