WILKES-BARRE — Some unionized nurses walked off the job Tuesday morning after their old contract at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital ran out.
Those workers say seven months without a contract is long enough. They walked off the job to protest what they say is management bargaining in bad faith.
Around 150 nurses hit the picket line. They’re holding this noontime rally on the sidewalk along North River Street, just off of the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital’s property.
Instead of being on the job, dozens of unionized nurses are on the sidewalk at 7 a.m. in front of the hospital.
This is emergency room nurse Stan Wielgopolski’s third time on strike. He’s been a Wilkes-Barre General employee for 25 years.
“We’re out here, if we have to fight for our patients on the street, we’ll fight for our patients on the street,” said Wielgopolski.
The nurses have been working under the terms of their old contract since April. They claim management is bargaining in bad faith.
Wages, the cost of health care, and staffing levels are said to be the major issues keeping both sides apart.
The head of the union, a 32-year nurse, says we all have a stake in what happens here.
“If we’re not taking home money, the local economy suffers, there’s a whole domino effect,” union president Elaine Weale said.
According to a union spokesman, the average unionized nurse at Wilkes-Barre General makes $49,000 a year.
Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is owned by Commonwealth Health, a for-profit company based in Tennessee. It has hired replacement workers during the strike, and a spokesman for management says patient care will not suffer.
Striking workers question the safety issue, but add they’re not sure how things are going inside, while they’re outside.
Safe or not, the replacement issue disappears Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., when the unionized nurses strike is scheduled to end.
Management says it’s business as usual, even with the replacements at Wilkes-Barre General. All departments, including the emergency room, remain open.
Nurses will be picketing on the sidewalks throughout the day and will hold a vigil at 5:30 p.m.
The union says that even though nurses are being “blatantly disrespected” they will return to work at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and its owner Commonwealth Health declined to talk with us on camera but insisted that qualified nurses are filling in, that scheduled surgeries should still happen, and that the E.R. and other departments are open as this one-day strike continues.