Nurses Picket Wilkes-Barre Hospital

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Nurses walked off the job Thursday at a hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

Nurses say they walked out because of working conditions they call unfair to them and to their patients.

But this strike is also about wages, and the pay hike the nurses are trying to get.

They marched at the corner of North River and West Maple Streets in Wilkes-Barre.

About 50 nurses hit the picket line for what they said is a one-day strike, primarily to protest low staffing levels at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

"When you have tired workers, the possibility of an error increases," said Elaine Weale, nurses association president.

Weale says the hospital cheats nurses and patients.

Nurses claim they're often forced to work overtime because the hospital won't hire enough nurses to fill its shifts.

"There's very, very strict guidelines as to when you can mandate health care worker to work extra hours, and this hospital breaks the law all the time," Weale claimed.

Nurses are also seeking a raise of up to six percent, claiming they're paid less than counterparts at other area hospitals. Union leaders say that forces many to leave Wilkes-Barre General for other jobs, leaving those still here with more shifts to fill.

"You're being forced to work 12-to-15-hour shifts without lunch breaks, without bathroom breaks, and you can't do that. It's not sustainable," said Ashley Weale, nurses association vice president.

Commonwealth Health is not commenting about the strike or negotiations, releasing a statement saying the hospital remains open and:

"Teams of highly qualified, experienced, temporary replacement nurses are working to ensure uninterrupted care for patients."

During a recent strike in Scranton, Commonwealth Health locked out nurses for several days after the walkout.

Nurses say Wilkes-Barre General Hospital told them they will be locked out until Tuesday.

Nurses plan to resume picketing through the weekend, while the hospital will be staffed by replacements until then.