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UPMC Altoona nurses not being allowed back to work, despite strike ending

Reported By: Kerri Corrado
Written By: Marc Stempka

ALTOONA, Pa. -- UPMC Altoona registered nurses ended their one-day strike at 7 a.m. Wednesday, but hospital officials are not permitting some of their employees to come back to work because of an agreement the hospital has with replacement nurses brought in to work during the strike.

Nurses said they were turned away from the hospital doors Wednesday morning following the Tuesday strike. Nurses picketed in front of the hospital, and now the locked-out workers are spending Wednesday rallying in front of the hospital, waiting to return to their patients.

UPMC Altoona officials hired replacement nurses to cover shifts staffed by the SEIU Pennsylvania Healthcare unionized nurses, with an agreement that keeps the replacement workers there through at least four days.

Hospital officials said 31 nurses were permitted to return to work Wednesday.

Union officials said the cost replacement employees will be $1.6 million, while the hospital's normal employees are standing on the sidewalks in front of Blair County's largest hospital.

"We didn't go to nursing school to stand out here," Paula Stellabotte said. "[It's] very hurtful, there were a lot of tears, we want to go back as a group."

Nurse Tammy Morgan said while they were trying to return to work, they were stopped by UPMC Altoona police officers with a pre-written letter.

"We were told if didn't get a phone call yesterday that you should leave until you were called back," Morgan said.

Hospital officials said Wednesday that nurses were to remain at home until they received a call from their supervisors, instructing them to return to work. Officials expected all nurses to be back to work by Monday.

"We told the community we'll only be gone for one day, we told the patients that were there [that] we'd be back in 24 hours," Stellabotte said. "They're waiting for us and this is how we're treated. I mean, it makes you feel like you're criminals."

Hospital officials said 182 nurses crossed the picket line during the strike and that there were no reported security incidents.

Officials said all operations ran as normal and other UPMC Altoona facilities opened as normal on Wednesday morning.

Nurses have maintained that UPMC administrators walked out on contract negotiations twice and that they had no option but to strike.

Both sides said they expect contract talks to resume next week.

"We were ready to return to work and we're nurses in this community and we feel that we should be taking care of our patients," Morgan said.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times