Schuylkill Hospital Nurses United Union is engaging in contract negotiations with Lehigh Valley Health Network after citing issues with understaffing and unfair treatment.
The Nurses Union is working with business representative Seth Goldstein to engage in bargaining discussions to fix problems present in the hospital.
Goldstein and the Nurse’s Union have filed unfair labor charges to the National Labor Relations Board against Lehigh Valley Hospital-Schuylkill and the joint-employer Lehigh Valley Health Network.
Chrissy Newton and Brandee Siegfried said Schuylkill has had issues retaining nurses and has experienced staffing shortages.
Siegfried and Newton have both been nurses in Schuylkill County for the past 18 years.
Siegfried said there have been nurses from her unit who left to work outside of the Lehigh Valley Health Network.
The hospital has tried to respond to the staffing shortages by blocking beds that are available for patients. According to Siegfried, there are only two nurses available for the six rooms in the intensive care unit.
“The pandemic did not cause these problems in healthcare, it exposed them,” Newton said.
According to Newton and Siegfried, the psychiatric hospital is facing safety concerns as well. While there is a security guard present, they are often used as a messenger to the main hospital building. There are times where nurses are left with patients who could be violent or suicidal without adequate security, Newton and Seigfried said.
“As nurses we are tired, emotionally and physically,” Newton said. “We’re upset, mad and actually embarrassed that these health networks are failing us. We just want to do our job and do it safely.”
The Schuylkill Hospital is a mixed hospital, meaning it is filled with union and nonunion nurses. Newton and Siegfried said the hospital has created an unhealthy work environment due to unequal treatment.
Nonunion nurses have been given small bonuses, ranging from $500 to $800 the past few years, and extra days off that the union nurses do not receive. The hospital labels the bonuses as “shared success bonuses,” which the union nurses do not apply for because of their collective bargaining agreement.
“This causes anger because everyone has shared in that success of the building, the hospital and the community,” Siegfried said.
Goldstein said Schuylkill has capped hourly wages to $42.70 an hour and has taken away incremental pay increases.
He also noted that Schuylkill contributes three percent to a defined contribution pension for the nurses while nurses at Cedar Crest Hospital receive six percent.
“It seems as though the hospital plays us off one another and causes an unhealthy work environment,” Siegfried said.
Goldstein said no nurses have been fired for union activities.
According to the charges filed, nurses were told to take off stickers that were pro-union by management because of a “work rule prohibiting union stickers and buttons.” Siegfried pointed out the hypocrisy that there are various other pins and apparel allowed that wouldn’t fit workplace attire rules, but are tolerated.
“This is targeted against unions and us organizing,” Siegfreid said. “It is an anti-union or union busting environment.”
The charges also stated that LVHN has interrogated their employees about their union activities and has maintained work rules “that prohibit employees from discussing wages, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment.”
LVHN hired local attorney, Ed Easterly, to represent it during the contract negotiations.
Easterly declined to make a public comment out of respect to collective bargaining agreements.
Recently, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and was received by the Senate in early March. The act adds protections for unions.
If the PRO Act passes it would be a beneficial attribute to the nurses union and all other unions, Newton said. She said it will make people feel more able to speak about problems in the workplace without fear of retaliation.
“The ultimate goal is for the network to realize that the things that we have proposed and are asking for are not things for personal gain for us, they are to help the hospital… and the community,” Newton said.