Altoona nurses plan 1-day strike

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Nurses at UPMC Altoona hospital intend to stage a one-day strike Tuesday to protest stalled contract talks with the health care giant.

SEIU Healthcare PA, which represents the hospital's 800 nurses, said the workers decided to strike after negotiations broke down last weekend when, according to the union, UPMC walked away from the table.

The previous contract expired Dec. 31.

Hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina said in a statement that "the hospital has been bargaining in good faith for four months and done everything reasonable to find common ground and reach an agreement."

Staffing and pensions are two of the primary issues in dispute, but Paula Stellabotte, an intensive care nurse who has worked at Altoona Regional for 25 years, also pointed to a culture change since UPMC took over the hospital in July.

"We've worked to have a good working relationship with management and now we're planning for our first strike ever. So it doesn't say much about how things are going," she said. "There has been very little of what we call bargaining and they've walked away twice."

The nurses union also criticized UPMC Altoona because it plans on Tuesday to use temporary replacement agency nurses from a Michigan-based firm, Huffmaster.

In addition to the cost of bringing in the nurses, SEIU said in a release that the move "raises concerns over the quality of care, since temporary nurses necessarily lack knowledge of hospital procedures and individual patient needs."

Mr. Cuzzolina said all of the temporary nurses hold Pennsylvania licenses and are trained in the clinical areas where they will be working.

"These registered nurses are experienced, highly qualified and specially trained," he said.

SEIU Healthcare PA also has been trying to unionize nonclinical staff at UPMC hospitals for the last two years.

Steve Twedt: or 412-263-1963.

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