Nurses stage one-day strike
EAST FRANKLIN – A 24-hour strike by nurses employed by Armstrong County Memorial Hospital (ACMH) ended at 6:44 a.m. today, and the 219 striking nurses were back on the job. However, according to Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) chief union negotiator, Gilbert Gall, the nurses are ready to strike again if demands for pension, wages and health insurance reforms are not met.
Nurses picketed along Nolte Drive near the ACMH entrance starting at 6:45 a.m. yesterday. Despite a cold wind and occassional light rain, they greeted passersby with smiles and waves.
‘We’re here, we’re smiling, we’re waving, people are showing their support for us by tooting their horns and waving back, and our feet are cold,’ said one unidentified nurse.
Gall was also on the picket lines yesterday morning and said the nurses have three main demands.
‘The pension plan is the number one issue,’ Gall said. ‘We want an improved level of benefits over the last plan and want the retirement age lowered from 65 to 62. We also want a wage increase of five percent a year over the next three years. We met with hospital officials Monday and they appeared ready to agree to the five percent but wanted a half-percent back for medical insurance coverage.’
Medical insurance coverage, Gall said, is the third issue.
‘Sure, nurses at other hospitals contribute towards their insurance plans, but their wages are higher and they usually have better benefits. The hospital wants our nurses to pay what amounts to 25 percent of the cost of insurance coverage and that is unacceptable.’
Gall did not say when negotiations with hospital officials would resume.
ACMH director of community affairs Michael Podrasky said the strike has caused cutbacks in hospital services, but will not affect emergency room or surgical services.
‘Yesterday morning we had 45 in-patients,’ Podrasky said. ‘We normally have about 120.’
Podrasky said the hospital will begin admitting new patients today, but added a note of cautious optimism.
‘We had 219 out of 239 nurses on strike yesterday. We should be back to normal staff and patient numbers soon,’ he said. ‘If they (the nurses) go on strike again they must give a 10-day notice. If that should happen, we’re ready to go through with our contingency plans including necessary cutbacks again.’
The hospital also announced yesterday that it will add extended hours for its laboratory draw stations in Rural Valley and Kittanning, keeping them open from 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Draw stations in Elderton, Leechburg and Sarver will remain open during normal business hours.