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Unionized nurses at 2 Pennsylvania community hospitals to strike this month amid ongoing contract negotiations

Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown and Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol are in contract negotiations with parent company, Prime Healthcare.

  • By Nicole Leonard/WHYY
Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown, Pa. (Google maps)

Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown, Pa. (Google maps)

About 200 employees at two community hospitals serving the Philadelphia suburbs say they will go on strike this month.

Unionized nurses at Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown and Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol delivered strike notices Monday night to Prime Healthcare, the California-based owner of both facilities.

Workers plan to step off the job Dec. 22 and strike for five days. Unions at both facilities are currently in labor negotiations with management. Their previous contracts expired in early October.

“The idea behind that is to get them moving and say, ‘Hey, we are not messing around. We are serious about this, we will strike if we have to, to get the contract we deserve,’” said registered nurse and union secretary Octavia Rumer, who works in the emergency department at Suburban Community Hospital.

Union members said they’re most concerned about staffing levels, which Rumer called “abysmal,” especially after layoffs in September.

“All the research shows that when there’s better staffing, there’s better patient outcomes,” she said. “Ultimately, this all comes down to the patient and making sure that the patient and the community is taken care of.”

Higher wages and expanded benefits are also among the unions’ demands in the negotiations.

A spokesperson for Prime Healthcare said the company continues to bargain in good faith with hospital unions. Officials said their proposals have so far included wage increases and a “valuable” health care benefits plan.

However, union members said those offers fall short.

“The increases they’re offering don’t even touch the inflation rate right now,” Rumer said.

Moreover, Rumer accused Prime of failing to deliver on its promises since buying Suburban Community and Lower Bucks hospitals in 2016 and 2012, respectively.

“They continue to cut services and cut services,” she said. “They boast that they’re here for the underprivileged and for this community, and they really are not doing anything to help this community at all.”

Officials at Prime Healthcare said they hope to reach contract agreements with both unions, which are members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

“It is disappointing that despite progress being made, the union has walked away from negotiations and has chosen to strike,” Prime Healthcare officials said in a statement, “but that will not impact our commitment to providing quality patient care to our communities throughout the holidays and always.”

Strikes will be called off if deals are reached in the next 10 days.

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