Nurses picket 2 Las Vegas hospitals, saying management locked them out

Monday, December 4th 2006, 6:16 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Nurses picketed Monday at two hospitals that union official said had locked them out, despite calls by top elected officials for continued talks to avoid a strike that could affect thousands of people.

The more than 600 union nurses at Valley Hospital Medical Center and Desert Springs Hospitals wanted to honor the call by Nevada political leaders for a 30-day cooling-off period to continue contract talks and avoid a job action, said Chris Coil, a Service Employees International Union spokesman. The two hospitals have a total of 800 nurses.

``We rescinded a strike call, but the hospital rejected Nevada's leadership just as they rejected the nurses,'' Coil said. ``This is clearly a lockout.''

Spokeswomen for the two hospitals and their owner, Universal Health Services Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa., did not respond to requests for comment Monday. On Sunday, a Desert Springs spokeswoman said the hospital had to proceed with its strike contingency plans because the union had not withdrawn its notice of intent to strike.

Nurses were informed Sunday that they would be locked out of their jobs, said union spokeswoman Jane McAlevey.

Coil said the main sticking point in contract negotiations was staffing, which he said nurses want increased to the levels at other hospitals in the area. The two sides also are divided over compensation and union-access rights.

Together, the two hospitals account for 695 beds in central Las Vegas, about a third of area's available beds.

Nurses agreed Sunday to a request by state Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, Gov.-elect Jim Gibbons and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid for a new round of negotiations to try to break the impasse. But Universal Health Services executives rejected the request, Buckley said.

``We believe we're facing a crisis, and I think we're all concerned about the unwillingness on their part to agree to a cooling-off period,'' Buckley said.

``With our growth in southern Nevada, we have an incredible nursing shortage. Our system is pretty taxed and we're concerned about what this will do to the quality of care to patients,'' she said.

``A strike could cripple the delivery of medical care critical to the lives and well-being of thousands of southern Nevadans,'' said Gibbons, who assumes office Jan. 1.