The Group Health Association, which provides all the health care for 110,000 Washington area residents, faces its second strike by health care professionals in nine months.
The organization's 64 registered nurses have voted to strike at 7 a.m. Jan. 2 if a settlement has not been reached in their current contract negotiations with GHA.
Last April all but emergency services at Group Health were shut down by a bitter 11-day physicians' strike, the first such job action in the nation by a union of fully trained physicians.
The executive council of the union representing GHA's 84 nonsupervisory full-time physicians has voted to support a nurses' strike, and physicians union leaders are said to be recruiting their colleagues to honor any picket line established by the nurses.
Nurses say the principal issues dividing the two sides are wages, pensions, working schedules and staffing ratios. GHA executive director Dr. Edward J. Hinman, refused to commetnt on the issues under negotiation, explaining that they "must be discussed at the bargaining table."
Thomas Gagliardo, who is bargaining for the nurses' independent union, would not discuss the precise pay raises being asked for by the nurses other than to say "it's a complicated formula that involves raising the starting and top salaries and dividing the rest into steps.
"There are substantial raises on both ends," said Gagliardo, who also represented the physicians in their GHA negotiations.
Gagliardo insisted that a wage settlement for nurses should not be bound to President Carter's voluntary seven percent ceiling. The nurses have a right to more, he said, because GHA recently increased its rates by 10.4 percent.
Hinman responded that the 10.4 percent increase had been announced before the imposition of the guidelines, which were not intended to be retroactive, he said.
On the question of staffing, the nurses say more registered nurses are needed at Group Health, which has seen its membership increase from about 85,000 in 1974 to about 110,000 today, while its nursing staff has remained at a nearly constant level. Hinman would not comment on the issue.
The nurses are demanding fully funded pensions-they now pay upwards of $40 a month-and the continued right to fixed work schedules.
Unlike most other nurses-particularly those who work in hospitals-Group Health's nurses have traditionally worked fixed hours, permanent day or evening shifts.
Group Health is demanding the right to reschedule nurses as needed, according to the union, and the nurses contend they are being asked to give up one of the features that makes working for Group Health attractive. The nurses start at a salary of about $11,600, significantly less than that offered by many area hospitals.
If the Group Health nurses strike, theirs will be the city's second strike this year by registered nurses. Last summer, staff nurses struck the Washington Hospital Center for a month, sharply curtailing functioning of the area's largest private hospital.
The two labor disputes are markedly different, however, despite the presence of Gagliardo as chief negotiator for both unions.
The Hospital Center strike had much to do with the new militancy of nurses and their image of themselves as equal partners with physicians as providers of health care.
Both sides at GHA, however, agree that the dispute at the health maintenance organization-whose members pay a fixed monthly fee for all their health care-is much more a traditional labor-management dispute over wages and working conditions, with little strain between nurses and physicians, both of whom are employes at Group Health.