The union representing nurses who work at three Prince George's County health facilities accused their employer yesterday of bargaining in bad faith and giving nurses erroneous information about contract negotiations.
The accusations, made in complaints of unfair labor practices filed with the National Labor Relations Board, followed last Friday's breakdown in contract negotiations between the local Professional Nurses Association and Community Hospital and Health Care Systems Inc., which operates Prince George's General Hospital, Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital and Bowie Health Center. The union represents 650 registered nurses who are threatening to go out on strike Friday if there is no contract agreement by then.
Yesterday Paula Singer, executive director of the union's parent organization, the Maryland Nurses Association, said that the hospital corporation managers interfered with the union by sending staff nurses a letter indicating that it was the nurses who broke off negotiations last week when they refused to come back to the bargaining table with a counter offer.
In addition, Singer said that the letter contained incorrect figures on the amount of money that the nurses were currently being offered at the bargaining table. "You just don't do that. . . . Management should not communicate directly with nurses at this time," Singer said.
The nurses insisted that it is the hospital that must make a counter offer. Local union President Carolyn Larkin said that on Aug. 9, the nurses asked for a 12 percent raise, and when that was rejected, they returned on Aug. 11, asking for 11.5 percent. Larkin said that, to date, the hospital has made no new offer in response to that last proposal.
Ken Duncan, vice president of the hospital management corporation, could not be reached late yesterday to comment on the complaint. But earlier in the day he said he expected to meet with the nurses and a federal mediator at the bargaining table this afternoon. "We are hoping the other side will make some moves," he said, but added that he is prepared to make a new offer if necessary.
Duncan also said then that the corporation is preparing for the possible strike. "We do have contingency plans . . . We will be ready to operate." He said the health facilities would have adequate nursing staff if there is a strike on Friday, but he would not say from where the additional nurses would come.
When negotiations broke down last Friday, Duncan said that the new corporation, which was created to run the three former county medical facilities, was concerned about shortfalls in revenue and was willing to offer the nurses only a 3.3 percent pay raise.
Duncan also said the corporation proposed taking away the nurses' automatic step increases and replacing those with discretionary merit raises. The nurses have rejected this offer, saying that it represents a step backward for them.
Last summer, when these same nurses were still county employes, there was talk of a strike when the contract ran out.
However, an agreement was reached before the threat of a strike became a reality. This latest contract expired on Aug. 15.