Nurses union hopes for deal with Lifespan, but 2nd strike remains an option

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been one week since unionized nurses, technologists and therapists at Rhode Island Hospital returned to work following a strike, and the members are planning to picket again starting Monday – though they’ll remain on the job.

The United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098 is planning “informational pickets” outside Rhode Island Hospital on Monday and outside The Miriam Hospital on Tuesday, which is a Lifespan hospital but doesn’t have unionized nurses.

The planned pickets come as the union is set to meet with hospital negotiators on Wednesday to try and resolve the contract dispute that caused the nurses to go on strike for three days last week. They remained on the picket line for a fourth day after Rhode Island Hospital said they had to honor a four-day contract with the replacement nurses.

“It’s no one’s intent to pursue a second strike,” union spokesperson Ray Sullivan said Friday. “We didn’t take the initial one lightly.”

The union’s executive board does have the option of issuing a new 10-day strike notice to the hospital though, after a majority of the 2,400 union members voted Thursday to authorize the board to issue the strike notice if negotiations fail. 

There are no current plans to actually issue the notice, Sullivan said, and members would have to vote again to authorize a strike.

“I think all our members want to see a fair and competitive contract negotiated as quickly as possible,” Sullivan said. “One that recognizes the sacrifice, commitment and skill that they bring to the bedside every day.”

The two sides have not met to negotiate since the morning of July 23. The strike began that afternoon.

“Rhode Island Hospital is looking forward to resuming discussions with UNAP’s bargaining committee on Aug. 8,” hospital spokesperson David Levesque said in an email. “The hospital is committed to negotiating in good faith toward a contract that reflects the value of our nurses and technical staff by offering wages and benefits commensurate with the market.”

“Rhode Island hospital will not be swayed by the threat of another strike,” Levesque added.

Sullivan said the union’s negotiating team is willing to compromise.

“We’re ready to talk, but we’re not going to roll over,” he said. “We’re not going to be silent and not raise issues that we think the public deserves to know.” He said those issues include patient safety, resource and staffing levels.

The union members also voted Thursday in favor of a resolution of “no confidence” in Lifespan CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau and RI Hospital President Dr. Margaret Van Bree. Lifespan’s chairman of the board, Lawrence Aubin, Sr., responded by saying the two had the “full faith and support” of the Board of Directors.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Providence

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