Strike-happy SEIU nurses could go for round 3

Registered nurses at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center voted on a tentative contract Thursday that would end an eight-month negotiation process and avert a third strike.

The leadership of the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, which represents about 1,000 nurses at the hospital, said the results of the vote would not be available until late Thursday, but there was optimism that the contract would be approved.

If a tentative contract were not approved, nurses planned to begin 10-day strike Sunday evening.

Nurses hit the picket line twice in September - once for 24 hours and then again for a five-day strike. Sue Weinstein, executive director of SEIU Local 121RN, said she believed the planned 10-day strike influenced the decision to return to the bargaining table.

Reaching agreement will demonstrate commitment on both sides, said Kathy Roche, hospital spokeswoman. "A lot of hard work has gone into the collective bargaining process. The patients come first and the hospital knew we had to keep negotiating because a 10-day strike still would not lead to a resolution," Roche said. "It would be disruptive to patients and families as well as our physicians and nurses who chose to remain at the bedside."

Weinstein said a federal mediator called both sides back to the bargaining table Wednesday morning and talks continued late into the evening. The negotiations were the first since the end of November, she said. The proposed contract has an expiration date of May 31, 2011, Weinstein said.

If approved by the union, the contract would become effective upon ratification, Roche said.

The proposal calls for a 19 percent wage increase over the life of the contract, Weinstein said.

The hospital agreed to a 12-month pilot program to reduce the number of patients per nurse in the transitional care unit, the union director added. Patients in this unit have improving health, but are not ready to be discharged and often are receiving physical or occupational therapy, Roche said.

Roche said hospital officials are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and to have averted a strike. She also had words for the community. "We are appreciative of the community's patience during the recent collective-bargaining process and we look forward to continuing to provide safe, quality health care for residents of the Pomona/Inland Valley," she said.


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