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Latest News - November 2011

November 11, 2011
Nurses union plans strike at St. Lucie Medical Center after negotiations fail
By: Eric Pfahler

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Union nurses for St. Lucie Medical Center plan to strike, a union official said Friday.

The 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, however, has not planned when the strike will start, nor has the union notified Hospital Corporation of America of the strike as of yet, said Jean Stewart, a union delegate and registered nurse in St. Lucie Medical Center's Behavioral Health Unit.

The decision comes after two days of unsuccessful negotiations. Entering the negotiations, the more than 300 union workers had voted to authorize a strike. The union originally planned to strike Nov. 14, but opted to come back to the negotiating table.

"We have now made the choice that we are going to strike," Stewart said.

Under rules for nurses unions, the union must provide 10 days' notice to HCA, which is a for-profit hospital chain. The rules are designed to prevent patients from losing care during strikes.

HCA runs 18 other hospitals in the state that have unions. Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce also is run by HCA, but is not unionized.

St. Lucie Medical Center nurses voted to unionize under 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers in February. The union is part of the Service Employees International Union.

St. Lucie Medical Center spokesperson Ginger King said the hospital has not been notified of a strike. King declined further comment.

"At this time, we are not going to discuss ongoing negotiations," King said.

Stewart said she did not want to get into specifics of what went wrong in the negotiations. Previous reports have said the union does not want salary caps put into employees' contracts after 15 years and wants HCA to give more than the proposed 2 percent salary increases for hospital caregivers.

Union workers also want a minimum wage of $10 an hour. Union officials have said HCA executive wages increased by more than 200 percent in 2009 and 2010.

"We want what's fair," Stewart said.

The union has a fund to help offset any financial hardship the strike could cause, said Leah Barber-Heinz, the communications coordinator for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Florida Region.



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