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Negotiations between Geisinger, union set to resume in wake of strike vote

Part of the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center campus, in Plains Township, is seen earlier this year.
Roger DuPuis
Part of the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center campus, in Plains Township, is seen earlier this year. Unionized licensed professional nurses and technical employees at Geisinger Wyoming Valley and associated facilities have voted to strike from June 10-15.

Unionized licensed professional nurses and technical employees at three Geisinger healthcare centers in Luzerne County have voted to strike for five days in June over unfair labor practices.

The vote last week, backed by more than 95% of members, would see 340 LPNs — together with radiology, procedural, therapy, and respiratory employees — walk off the job at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains, Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre and the Pittston Healthplex. The strike is scheduled for June 10-15.

Members voted to reject Geisinger’s most recent contract proposals. They cited "unfair labor practices and the health system’s failure to adequately invest in retaining essential frontline staff in a moment of widespread staffing shortages and reports of significant patient wait times," according to a release from SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

Negotiations are set to resume this morning.

Pay and health insurance costs are key concerns, said Michael Montanez, an emergency room technician at Geisinger Wyoming Valley.

"We're hoping to reach an agreement before we actually get to a strike. Striking is never something that anyone wants to do. It doesn't help the patients, it doesn't help the community," Montanez said.

"I really hope it does not get to that point. I trust in Geisinger to give us a fair contract that will benefit both us and them in the long run," Montanez said.

He acknowledged he and fellow members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania remain prepared to strike, however.

“Our goal is to provide our patients with the best care possible when they need it most,” said Barbara Cann, certified surgical technologist. “We don’t want to strike, and we’re going to try hard to reach an agreement with Geisinger before that happens. But we’re prepared to do what’s necessary to stand up for our patients and our professional standards.”

Geisinger's statement

In a statement, Geisinger recognized the Service Employees International Union-represented members for playing a critical role in delivering healthcare and for "their commitment to our community."

"We respect their rights as union members. We are committed to continued good-faith bargaining to reach a mutually agreeable labor contract," the statement said.

Staff unionized last year

The employees have been negotiating with Geisinger since voting to join SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania last June.

"One of our biggest concerns, obviously, is wages," Montanez said.

"With Geisinger being the only level one trauma center from here to Danville, right now we we have an influx of very acute, sick, injured patients. The staff that I work with work really hard and I feel like the pay should really reflect that."

Montanez also said union members feel the rising costs of their health insurance are outpacing their cost of living.

"I have a wife who has a lot of underlying conditions, and the medications that we're paying for are just putting us in debt," he said. "I feel like Geisinger can do better to help care for the community, as well as the people that are serving the community, which is their employees."

Roger DuPuis joins WVIA News from the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. His 24 years of experience in journalism, as both a reporter and editor, included several years at The Scranton Times-Tribune. His beat assignments have ranged from breaking news, local government and politics, to business, healthcare, and transportation. He has a lifelong interest in urban transit, particularly light rail, and authored a book about Philadelphia's trolley system.

You can email Roger at rogerdupuis@wvia.org