SEIU employees to picket Tuesday; coverage reassured

LEWISTOWN – Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital employees who are members of the Service Employees International Union will picket from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, said Teresa Williams, SEIU chapter president and hospital employee. In a statement issued Friday, Kay Hamilton, the hospital’s chief administrative officer, said the facility is prepared for “business as usual” during the work stoppage.

“We have highly trained, qualified staff that will continue to provide excellent care for our patients,” Hamilton said. “Rest assured we will be fully operational.”

The release indicates the union represents 188 hospital employees working in support services, including food service, housekeeping and maintenance. Communications Coordinator Keria Meals said those jobs will be performed by other employees, managers and supervisors on Tuesday.

The strike is a result of what the union sees as a violation of labor law. The union previously stated that hospital management has not provided information about how health care costs for employees are computed based on Geisinger owning its own insurance company, the hospitals and medical offices used by workers. Failure to provide this information is a violation of labor law, the union has said.

Hamilton said the union’s advertising campaign is disheartening and misleading.

“The union’s attempt to identify the hospital as uncooperative and to label its upcoming action as an unfair labor practice strike is disappointing, as are its misrepresentations of Geisinger’s commitments and intentions,” Hamilton said. “We have gone out of our way throughout negotiations to respond to the union’s requests for information wherever legally possible. It’s sad that the union spends its members’ union dues on such miscommunication.”

Other issues in question include reduced starting wages for new employees and eliminating the employees’ pension plan in favor of a 403(b)-style contribution plan.

“We take our responsibility as an employer seriously,” Hamilton said. “We care about our employees and presented an attractive offer. The stumbling block is the union’s insistence on making the hospital support the union’s pension plan, which we don’t believe is prudent. Our offer provided an alternative for retirement that will also provide better salary increases and benefits than SEIU employees have seen in years.”

Williams said the union’s position is that the employees should not have to “go backwards,” given information found in IRS and bond documents indicating Geisinger made $300 million last year and its chief executive officer, Glenn Steele, receives an annual salary of more than $5 million.

Negotiations for the two-year contract began in January. Meals said the hospital has not received a request from SEIU for any additional bargaining sessions.

For more information on the hospital’s preparedness for the one-day strike, call 242-7365.