UVM Medical Center nurses on strike

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) After negotiators failed to reach agreement Wednesday, University of Vermont Medical Center nurses began a two-day strike Thursday at 7 a.m.

Picket lines formed Thursday morning on Colchester Avenue, right across from the hospital entrance. Edward McCauley was one of dozens of nurses taking part. "On a personal level, management for me has been supportive, but on the bigger picture, I think there is a lot more that can effect all the nurses here," McCauley said.

Hospital officials brought in up to 600 replacements to keep operations running and say they have formed an Incident Command Center. They issued a statement including the following:

"We have received no reports of problems with patients, visitors or staff accessing our facilities. The vast majority of patients will not see an impact in terms of their appointments. Anyone who has not heard from their doctor’s office should plan on keeping their appointments for later today and tomorrow."

The hospital has offered a 14 percent pay increase over a three year period. This is one percent more than the offer they were sticking with for some time. It includes 6 percent the first year and 4 percent for each of the following two years. The union says it countered that offer with a total 22 percent increase. This is two percent less than what they originally asked for. That would be 10 percent the first year and 6 percent for the following two years. Both of those offers include a two percent step increase.

Union members say hospital representatives walked away from the table around 10 p.m. Wednesday.

"Right now, we are dealing with the biggest bullies in this state," said Julie MacMillan, with the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. "They are bullying the medical assistants, the licensed nurses' aides. They are bullying the physicians and they are attempting to bully the nurses, so at this point, we are saying we are standing up for our rights, we are standing up for our membership and we are standing up for our patients and our community."

Hospital spokesperson Michael Carrese says this is a moment the hospital team hoped wouldn't come. He says they listened and acted on many union requests during 22 bargaining sessions.

"In the end, the organization could not responsibly meet the union’s wage demands and also meet all of the other responsibilities we have to our patients and families, our employees and the communities we serve," said Carrese.

The strike lasts until 7 a.m. Saturday and involves all 1,800 nurses.