WB General Nurses Vote to Ratify New Agreement – Strike Averted
Wilkes-Barre, P.A. – After a day of voting on Wednesday, nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new union contract, averting a strike.
The Wyoming Valley Nurses Association bargaining committee reached a tentative agreement on Tuesday evening with management ahead of a strike that had been planned for February 13th.
At the forefront of negotiations were patient care concerns related to nurse staffing levels. To address these issues, the parties agreed to a robust Patient Care Council that meets regularly with a federal mediator present if necessary.
Lori Schmidt, RN, treasurer of WVNA, said "We are proud of this agreement and that a strike has been averted. We have a process to address our patient care concerns, which we hope that the hospital has entered into in good faith. We will keep the community updated and fully intend to hold them accountable. Unfortunately, the hospital refused to include nurses’ domestic partners in our bereavement policy, which is very disrespectful, but we will continue to pursue it.”
Staffing concerns have also been a top priority for regulators. In a PA Department of Health inspection report issued in November following an unannounced visit that was called for by WVNA, the hospital was cited for violations of nineteen state and federal health codes related to patient rights, staffing, and emergency services. In December, the union nurses also released a detailed report on conditions within the hospital as well.
The state's investigators described a “systemic nature of non-compliance with regards to nursing services” stating that management “failed to schedule a sufficient number of RNs and/or ancillary staff on the nursing units for 81 of 148 shifts reviewed.” The report found 91 open RN positions and reliance on an excessive use of overtime.
The new contract also includes a significant increase in wages intended to recruit and retain nurses.
WVNA nurses had previously voted to strike for 24 hours beginning February 13 if a tentative agreement could not be reached. The contract will have a three-year duration lasting until January 31, 2022.
Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, the largest for-profit hospital company in the United States. Their hospital system in northeast Pennsylvania includes six hospitals operating as “Commonwealth Health”.
The Wyoming Valley Nurses Association is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, a union of dedicated nurses and health professionals across Pennsylvania, formed in 2000 and dedicated to the belief that patients receive the best care when clinical care staff has a strong voice to advocate for both patients and themselves.
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