UVM Medical Center, nurses brace for 2-day strike

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) It's only a matter of hours until a planned nurses strike at the University of Vermont Medical Center. If a deal isn't reached between the union and hospital Wednesday night, 1,800 nurses won't show up for work Thursday.

No parking posters and red signs already hang outside an office building on Colchester Avenue, the new headquarters for the striking nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

"You know we're going to be here 24 hours a day for two days. All throughout the day, evening, and night picketing, so it's a nice place for us to have a headquarters -- a home base," said union organizer Daniel Luttrell.

The nurses have moved from their initial demands and now have two offers on the table. The first calls for a one year contract with a ten percent increase -- five percent at the beginning and five percent after the first six months. The second proposal calls for a three year contract with nine percent the first year and four percent in each of the next two years.

Hospital administration officials have so far not budged from its most recent position -- a 13 percent increase over three years.

While the hospital says the union has refused to work with a mediator, union leaders say the mediator has been involved, but they want to sit down directly with decision-makers at the hospital. "It's concerning for me that our management is afraid of sitting in a room with a couple hundred nurses. They're afraid of us it seems -- at that rate -- and they feel we're being disrespectful in the bargaining session. We feel disrespect from them 365 -- every day of the year," Luttrell said.

Administrators officials say they are confident in their negotiating team. "No, I am not at the table, but believe me I am involved in every single decision," saidUVM Medical Center President Eileen Whalen.

If the strike happens, union members plan to picket outside the hospital. They will not be allowed to park on site. Shelley Palmer, who's wife his a nurse, plans to use a bus and van to get striking nurses to the picket line. "I don't like my wife being on strike because that means that my family doesn't get money. I hope that they settle this problem," Palmer said. He says the plan is to bring nurses from the University Mall to picketing locations. "Look at how life works. You prepare for the worst and you hope for the best. This negotiation stuff has been going on for a long time and I just think it's statistically unlikely that they're not going to pull the trigger and strike."

Union officials say their strike will not impact patient care when it comes to the actual picketing.

Will a two day strike make a difference? Union officials say they have seen two day strikes work at other facilities. They say although the hospital will bring in nearly 600 replacement nurses, that will only covers a third of the nurses expected to strike, so some medical services will not be performed, impacting patients and costing the hospital a lot of money. Officials say additional strikes in the future are also a possibility.

Still, with little time remaining, both sides say they hope that a deal can be reached.