UPMC, nurses resuming talks

UPMC Altoona and its registered nurses will resume negotiations today after a 10-day hiatus – highlighted by a one-day strike and a delay in readmitting the nurses to work – that rivaled the recent weather for bitterness, at least on the union side.

The two parties are hoping for more moderate relations to match the moderating temperatures predicted for this week.

“We are approaching these talks the same way we approached all previous talks – with the intention of bargaining in good faith and reaching an agreement,” said hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina.

“Nurses will be in negotiations with management [today], Wednesday and Thursday and are committed to achieving a contract,” said a spokesperson for the nurses, who are represented by SEIU Healthcare PA.

Despite a warning from a union official at a community rally Wednesday that nurses must be ready to strike again if they can’t come to an agreement on a contract that expired at the end of last year, the nurses haven’t issued another strike notice, according to the spokesperson.

“We are committed to reaching an agreement,” the spokesperson said.

The striking nurses were all permitted to come back to work after 7 a.m. Saturday, whenever their next shift occurred, Cuzzolina said.

The 24-hour strike ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The hospital began admitting a small number of regular RNs after the strike ended, as it needed them, but it continued to employ contract replacement nurses, who were hired for a minimum four 12-hour shifts – not wanting to pay for redundant services.

At the community rally, nurses alleged that the replacement nurses were making many mistakes.

The hospital disputes that.

“Patient care was unaffected during the strike,” Cuzzolina said. “Physicians, patients, staff, families and the state Department of Health were very satisfied with the care provided by our replacement nurses.”

Those nurses showed a “high degree of professionalism and skill in a very difficult situation, as did our managers and staff who stayed with their patients.”

Supplementing the care provided by the 250 replacement nurses were 182 regulars who crossed the picket line.

Asked about rumors of other problems, Cuzzolina said “there have been a lot of them throughout this process, and few if any have had any basis in fact.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.