Labor unions to rally for nurses

As UPMC Altoona nurses prepare for an impending one-day strike, fellow union members and supporters are set to join them on picket lines and at public rallies, a labor leader said Friday.

Within hours of a planned walkout at 7 a.m. Tuesday, allies of the Service Employees International Union-affiliated nurses will attend a rally with the strikers, said Bob Kutz, president of the Blair-Bedford Central Labor Council.

“There are rallies scheduled, and we intend to be at them,” Kutz said. “There is support. It’s unfolding as we speak.”

The nurses and UPMC officials have blamed each other for the breakdown in negotiations leading to next week’s planned strike. The hospital has contracted with an outside nursing agency to fill the strikers’ positions for at least a day.

A public rally is set for noon Tuesday in front of UPMC Altoona, likely along Howard Avenue, according to a flyer mailed to Altoona households this week. Kutz said 10,000 flyers were sent throughout the city.

A vigil is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, as well, according to the flyer, and Kutz said labor supporters will gather Wednesday night at Altoona Area High School.

Other unions have expressed support as the nurses move closer to a strike: Utility Workers Union of America members, locked out of Altoona Penelec facilities since November, have posted signs backing the hospital workers at their Plank Road picket line.

The health care union has pressed for community backing, with the flyers calling for “quality care and quality jobs” and an SEIU website listing letters of public support.

While other union locals will likely join the nurses’ rallies, Kutz said, it’s unclear how many will turn out.

“You don’t know who’s going to show up until they show up,” he said.

While it’s not yet clear how far a picket line would stretch in front of UPMC Altoona, National Labor Relations Board Deputy Regional Director Kim Siebert said no special rules apply to pickets at health care facilities.

Action can be taken on a case-by-case basis if a line blocked entrance and exits, he said, but the nurses likely won’t face any restrictions beyond those facing workers in other industries.

Altoona police did not answer calls Friday seeking comment on a possible law-enforcement presence Tuesday.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.