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UVM Medical Center nurses rally on day 2 of strike

(WCAX)
Published: Jul. 13, 2018 at 6:04 PM EDT
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Friday was day two of the strike by nurses from the University of Vermont Medical Center.

"The community support, dropping off food, telling us they're sticking by us. I think every nurse here feels more empowered than ever," said Deb Snell of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

The two-day strike comes after the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and the UVM Medical Center failed to agree on a wage increase.

"This is really about wages at this point in time," said Eileen Whalen, the president of the UVM Medical Center.

Whalen says the two parties remain at two very different pay increase offers: 23 percent from the union and 13 from the hospital.

"She doesn't understand what we mean by wages. It's not about money just for money," Snell said. "We need that money to get the nurses here. Attract, retain keep them have them grow our community."

The union says they don't have enough staff at the hospital to care for patients, which can lead to one nurse handling too many patients. Whalen says they have agreed with the union to help fix staffing issues.

"The most important thing that we heard from the union is that they were very interested in having a charge nurse on each shift not have a patient assignment. and so that leaves an entire FTE available, a nurse, a leadership position with senior experience to be able to support the nurses on the unit in case something happens with a patient that was unplanned or whatever the case may be," Whalen said.

Reporter Avery Powell: So that is something that you both came to the table and agreed upon?

Deb Snell: That is something that should have been happening all along. So, yes, they finally agreed to it but, honestly, that should have been happening all along. It's only common sense that your charge nurse is available to help out especially newer nurses.

Hospital leadership insists operations have been running smoothly over the past day and a half with replacement nurses coming in. Sixty-eight procedures were postponed and should be rescheduled next month. But both sides want a resolution when this is all over.

"We want to go back to the table... bargain in good faith," Snell said. "We hope that the hospital is seeing what's happening out here and that these nurses are standing strong."

Some 68 patients had their surgeries delayed because of the strike. Sarah Toscano of Hinesburg is one of them. She says she's OK with the delay.

"I'm not upset with the nurses. I'm upset with the administration because they should not have pushed them to this point. Because they should what their nurses, they should have put a large value on their work. And they aren't. That's simply unacceptable," Toscano said.

The strike could cost the hospital $3 million. That's just an estimate.

Hospital administrators say things have been running smoothly with replacement nurses working.

We do know that at least 93 nurses crossed the picket line to work.

Union leadership says they should return to work as normal Saturday. However, they did address concern over a rumor that they could be locked out during that time. We asked the hospital's president about that.

"The hospital has never locked anyone out in the history of the organization and we won't start tomorrow," Eileen Whalen said.

Both sides say they are ready to get back to the negotiating table and figure this all out.

The union says if a deal is not reached, they can serve a new strike notice and could strike for a longer period of time if needed.