The registered nurses at UPMC Altoona voted Wednesday to authorize SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents them, to send a strike notice to management if a new contract agreement cannot be made.
The contract is set to expire on Jan. 25, and the negotiations have been ongoing since October. The notice would alert the hospital 10 days before a strike would begin.
The nurses expressed concerns about staffing issues and balked at a wage freeze and benefits cuts proposed by UPMC, according to a release from SEIU, a union that represtents health care workers.
Michelle Speck, vice president of human resources at UPMC Altoona, said in an email that hospital management has negotiated "in good faith" with the nurses. She said the nurses, and all employees, would have access to competitive wages, benefits and "the best working conditions possible in a 24/7 service such as health care."
"We are proposing the same sets of programs to the SEIU that UPMC has in place for more than 50,000 other employees, including more than 11,000 nurses," Speck said.
"UPMC's package of pay and benefits is very competitive in its markets and UPMC has demonstrated success in recruiting and retaining top talent in health care while offering a package that is also affordable for the future."
Many of the nurses, though, think otherwise, according to the release.
"We are concerned because management is proposing changes that we know are not in the best interests of our patients," Sue Delozier, an RN at the hospital for 34 years, said in the release. "We don't want to go on strike, but we won't sit back and allow them to make changes that could hurt our community."
Karen Gowley, campaign communications specialist for SEIU, said the contract negotiations have been "slow-moving."
Speck said the hospital would be prepared in the event of a strike, though a settlement could still be reached.
"The hospital will be prepared for every possibility and will not let patient care be negatively affected under any circumstances," she said.