• Hospital, union gird for battle

    Employees holding rally today
  • One of Pocono Medical Center's biggest unions will rally today to demand pay hikes and improved benefits that it says are merited by the hospital's profitability.
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  • One of Pocono Medical Center's biggest unions will rally today to demand pay hikes and improved benefits that it says are merited by the hospital's profitability.
    "We need to be respected by management and be able to provide for our families, so we can stay focused on our patients," said Kim Warner, a member of the Service Employees International Union.
    But the hospital said its offers of 3 percent raises for three years, free PMC health care and 90 percent funding of workers' health insurance premiums were reasonable. But the local SEIU chapter rejected those offers.
    "We hope management will work with us to reach a settlement, but we are united and determined to achieve a fair contract," Warner said.
    The union represents 550 non-professional service and maintenance workers, including housekeepers, cafeteria workers, nursing assistants and others.
    The current contract expired Oct. 31. The hospital has 1,800 workers.
    Union workers recently won the right to operate a closed shop, forcing all service employees to join the union. Members voted by a ratio of almost 2-to-1 against an open shop.
    The union said it wanted management to respect the democratic decision workers made to reject the open shop. The hospital has made an open shop one of its bargaining points.
    Negotiating sessions were held between hospital management and union representatives before and since the contract expired, but no resolution has been reached. Eighty-three percent of workers voted down a contract proposal made by the hospital, according to a union statement.
    "The proposal did not adequately address key issues like the pulling of staff to other units, mandatory overtime and starting wage rates for new hires," the union said.
    In addition to free health care at PMC, hospital spokesman Geoffrey Roche said the medical center would offer a $250 annual credit for those participating in a wellness program.
    "PMC made a fair and competitive offer to the union the evening of the contract expiration. The offer included a 3 percent wage increase in each of the three years of the contract, a $9.50-per-hour minimum pay rate that will increase to over $10 per hour by the end of the contract term."
    He also said workers would receive other "current differentials," which are paid in addition to base pay, a defined benefit pension plan fully paid by PMC.
    PMC's proposal at negotiations also included having an "open shop" whereby employees would have a choice whether or not to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
    The hospital rejected the union's claim that its financial performance indicated prosperity for the institution.
    "For the second year in a row, many hospitals struggled to maintain a positive bottom line due to tough economic conditions felt throughout the nation," Roche said. "Last year, most hospitals did not give annual increases and even held layoffs and froze vacant positions."
    Pocono Health System earned $17 million in excess revenue over expenses this past fiscal year, ending June 30, 2010, the hospital said.
    But as a nonprofit organization, that money must be re-invested into the medical center. The money is used to buy new medical equipment, create information systems and pay off loans for new buildings. That debt stands at $107.5 million.
    The rally, called the Rally for Respect and a Fair Contract, will be held at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of St. Matthew's Catholic Church, East Stroudsburg.
    Ann Marie Onken of St. Matthew's said the church gave the union permission to meet in its parking lot to begin a march to the hospital, but does not endorse any rally associated with the gathering.
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