After being locked out, union employees of Valley Hospital marched in a long line to the visitors’ entrance where they were turned away by security guards (SR Photo: Colin Mulvany)
In a tense but peaceful dispute this morning, at least 20 employees of Valley Hospital, including nurses and technical workers, were locked out of the hospital following a one-day strike on Wednesday.
Dozens of union members marched in a long line to the visitors’ entrance where they were turned away by security guards speaking through bull horns. Joining the workers in support were union representatives from Service Employees International Union 1199NW, along with Teamsters, fire fighters and others, including state Rep. Marcus Riccelli.
SEIU 1199NW union members picket outside of Valley Hospital Thursday morning. (SR Photo: Colin Mulvany)
The action comes following a one-day strike Wednesday at both Valley and Deaconess hospitals. Deaconess workers all returned to work today. Deaconess and Valley hospitals are owned by Community Health Systems, a for-profit chain based in Tennessee.
Valley Hospital representatives said the hospital was forced to hire replacement workers on 72-hour contracts to keep the hospital open during the strike and that they’re simply fulfilling that short-term obligation to the temporary workers.
Eventually the workers who were not replaced by temporary workers returned to work. The approximately 20 locked-out workers were sent home. The union opposes the lockout and is considering filing an unfair labor practices case, union representatives said.
Sabrina Kimm, lead organizer with SEIU 1199NW, holds a letter telling Janeen Massaia, a Valley Hospital RN, pictured far right, not to return to work until Saturday. (SR Photo: Colin Mulvany)
Some 57 patients were at Valley Hospital this morning, said Sasha Weiler, a spokeswoman for the hospital. Many of the patients witnessed the dispute unfolding while they were waiting to be admitted.
Carol Torpey, chief nursing officer at Valley, said she very much wants to calm the situation and have workers get back to work, taking care of patients. She said she instructed supervisors to not discuss the strike and to welcome back the workers who returned and to treat it as any other work day.
The 1,100 members of SEIU 1199NW have asked the hospitals to bolster staffing, saying cutbacks are putting patient care in jeopardy.
The hospitals say staffing levels are appropriate and claim the labor action is related to a push for higher wages, including a demand for 5 percent annual pay raises for three years.