A small contingent of Washington-area labor union members joined a rally and march yesterday in support of nurses on strike against Group Health Association, as negotiations in the contract dispute dragged into their second week.
The two sides remained "far apart" on the issue of wages, according to Dr. Edward J. Hinman, executive director of GHA, the largest health maintenance organization in the metropolitan area. However, GHA spokeswoman Bettie Payne reported after talks had adjourned last night that there had been "some slight movement."
About 200 union members -- including most of the 85 striking nurses and physical therapists -- summoned by the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO rallied in Farragut Square at noon, then paraded through lunchtime crowds along K Street to GHA headquarters at 2121 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, where they picketed for 20 minutes with the nurses.
The council consists of 250 union locals with a membership of 250,000. Council organizers said the turnout was small because only short notice of the event was given. Speakers told the crowd that the demonstration was meant as a symbol of organized labor's ability to cripple GHA.
"We'll ask every one of our members to pull out of GHA if the strike is not settled on the nurses' terms by May 3," said Bernard Demczuk, political organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees. Beginning on that date, the tens of thousands of union members enrolled in GHA will have a month-long "open season" in which they may opt to change health plans.
Among the demonstrators were Ed Garvey, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, and former Washington Redskins players Roy Jefferson and Brig Owens. "We say that NFL players are the game," Garvey told the crowd, "and nurses are the ones who make health care go."
In a city of bureaucracies, where the predominant form of labor is the pushing of paper, none of the demonstrators bore the traditional badges of organized labor -- no dirt beneath the fingernails, hard hats or greasy overalls. Dressed like the office workers most of them are, and carrying red and white balloons and placards, they politely chanted slogans, such as "GHA, they won't pay," as they strode along in crisp, sunny weather.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after the demonstrators dispersed, Hinman acknowledged that he was concerned about a "ripple effect" the nurses' walkout might have on other staff members.
At least half the 105 staff physicians already have refused to cross the picket lines at the K Street center and the four other clinics in suburban Maryland and Virginia, which have a total patient membership of 112,000. Even so, Hinman said, the clinics still were treating 70 percent of their normal daily caseload and rescheduling only routine cases that did not require prompt attention.
Hinman said his current proposal would raise the nurses' average salary 13 percent in 1982, from $16,977 to $19,910, and 8 percent more in 1983, to $22,147. The nurses are seeking a 23 percent increase this year, to $21,394, and 12 percent more next year, to $24,229.
"GHA has offered a total compensation package over the next two years that represents a significant increase and is very fair in the face of one of the worst recessions in our nation's history," Hinman said.