160 union workers go on strike at chapter



Union members are planning to return to work Wednesday.
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- About 160 union workers went on strike Sunday at an American Red Cross chapter that provides blood to southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and four other states.
The Communications Workers of America earlier this month filed a 20-day notice of the planned strike over a management proposal for blood collectors, phlebotomists and drivers to pay more for their health care benefits.
Recent negotiations failed to produce a new contract, and no new talks were scheduled.
Susan Walls, a union official, said she was among roughly 120 workers picketing outside the headquarters of the Greater Alleghenies Red Cross in Johnstown on Sunday afternoon.
The union was hoping to secure a new contract in the coming days, though no further negotiations have been scheduled, Walls said. Barring a lockout, the employees plan to return to work by Wednesday -- at least temporarily -- and "hope for the best," she said.
The union represents about 160 of the 700 workers employed by the Red Cross' Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region, which supplies blood to parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
What's being done
Jim Starr, chief executive officer of the agency, said the Red Cross chapter was relying on blood supplies from other chapters across the country, and that shipments had already been sent in anticipation of a strike. He has said blood drives would continue as scheduled.
Marianne Spampinato, a Red Cross spokeswoman, said there were nearly 50 nonunion supervisors and team leaders qualified to hold blood drives, and that administrators were seeking other nonunion workers to step in for striking bloodmobile drivers.
In a statement released Saturday, union spokeswoman Marge Krueger said some Red Cross proposals would have required workers to pay a deductible plus 10 percent to 15 percent of their hospital bills -- on top of a high deductible and a 20 percent copay.
Starr has said that the Red Cross proposed wage increases, more holiday and vacation time and a plan to cap workers' share of their health insurance premiums at 20 percent.
Messages seeking additional comment were left Sunday for Starr and Krueger.

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