10/7/07

SEIU authorizes strike at WV hospital

The Service Employees International Union has issued a 10-day strike notice to Weirton Medical Center. The union intends to conduct a five-day walkout commencing at 7 a.m. Oct. 16 and ending at 7 a.m. Oct. 21. The union’s contract with the hospital ended at midnight Sunday, and several hours of negotiating Monday evening failed to produce a tentative agreement. There are about 575 members of SEIU District 1199 who work at the hospital as service, maintenance and technical workers.

“This is about basic fairness,” said Lisa Minger, a service worker at Weirton Medical Center. “We want what’s fair: Affordable health insurance and a progressive wage scale that rewards experience and hard work.”

Union and hospital representatives both said they are committed to good-faith bargaining, but no contract talks have been scheduled since Monday. “We are committed to patient care first and foremost,” said Dr. Joseph P. Endrich, president and chief executive of the hospital. “We are well prepared to care for all of our patients. Sadly, the union appears to have different priorities. Since the beginning of August, we have negotiated in good faith with the union.”

The 10-day strike notice is required by law before a strike at a health care facility, the hospital noted and emphasized that registered nurses at the hospital do not have union representation.

WMC said it proposed wage increases of 9 percent over a three-year term as well as working with the union to create an acceptable wage scale.

“Unfortunately, the union rejected WMC’s offer and decided to strike,” said a hospital news release issued Friday.

“We are disappointed in the union’s decision. The community relies upon this hospital,” Endrich continued. “We need to make fiscal decisions that enable us to remain viable, not just for today, but for the years to come.”

The SEIU has distributed materials alleging the hospital has not managed its finances well and has provided “millions in loans to doctors” while paying workers substandard wages and issuing patient charges such as $4 a day for phone service.

“It is our sincere hope that we can reach an agreement with WMC that will ultimately improve patient care, reduce turnover and contribute to a healthy and sustainable work force,” said Erin Kramer, coordinator with SEIU District 1199.

WMC Public Relations Director Kelli McCoy said, “We’re saddened to hear the union has decided to go in this direction, but we remain committed to providing high-quality patient care as always.”

(news-register.net)

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