A federal judge last week turned aside a challenge to Washington Hospital Center's plans to establish a new pension plan for employes without bargaining with nurses and service workers at the hospital.
U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn dismissed the D.C. Nurses Association's request for an injunction that would have prevented the hospital from terminating or modifying the existing pension plan.
The nurses union had argued that the hospital's new plan would violate provisions of their collective bargaining agreement requiring the hospital to maintain benefits at current levels. The hospital has countered that the new plan is an improvement over the existing pension arrangements.
Penn ruled that an injunction was not necessary to protect the nurses and said the two sides should arbitrate the dispute under their collective bargaining agreement.
However, the union representing the service workers at the hospital went to District Court on Friday to seek a similar injunction against the hospital.
The service workers union charged that the hospital violated its duty to bargain collectively over the matter.
A spokeswoman for the hospital, an 821-bed facility in Northwest Washington, said officials weren't available Friday to comment on the lawsuit.
But in court papers filed Thursday, hospital attorneys denied the charge and said the new plan "operates to the benefit, not the detriment, of the employees."
As of late last week, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey had yet to rule on the service workers' request.
The dispute erupted weeks ago when the hospital disclosed plans to terminate its employe pension plan in July and transfer the roughly $28 million in funds to a new plan being set up for the entire Medlantic Health Care Group.
Medlantic is the nonprofit holding company for the Hospital Center and several other health care facilities.
Medlantic officials contend that the new plan will be administratively easier to handle, will return higher benefits and permit employes to stay in the same plan as they move to different jobs throughout the system. Currently workers are covered by several pension plans.
But Doug Taylor, an attorney for the nurses union, said the new plan is costlier for workers and does nothing to improve the benefits of retired nurses.
"They really should not be able to do with this money what they want," Taylor said. He said the nurses plan to appeal Penn's dismissal.