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Prison Health Services Asks Union Leaders to Let Members Vote on 22% Increase.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Prison Health Services, Inc., which provides health care in Alameda County's jails, has asked union leaders to submit the company's proposed comprehensive wage and benefits package to health care workers for a vote, and join the company in seeking Federal mediation to resolve contract issues.

The PHS action came in a bargaining session late Wednesday after the union gave notice that a strike would begin at 6 a.m. on Dec. 19 and end at 6 a.m. on Dec. 21. The union also gave notice of its intent to picket.

PHS officials described as "absolutely untrue" the allegations the union made publicly about staffing levels and patient treatment.

PHS also asked that rank-and-file union members be given the opportunity to vote on the company offer, which includes a 22% increase in wages over three years, plus additional premiums for work on evenings, nights, holidays and weekends.

PHS has been negotiating with SEIU United Healthcare Workers West over a compensation and benefits packages for approximately 120 registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, nursing assistants, medical records clerks and medical assistants who work at Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility in Oakland and Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Bill Wilson, PHS regional manager and health services administrator with responsibility for Alameda County operations, said he was "shocked" at the allegations the union bargaining team made in a news release announcing the strike notice.

"It is shocking that the union bargaining team would disrespect its own members by alleging that a Pepsi bottle was used as a colostomy bag because staff had too many patients to take care of," Wilson said. "The nurses we hire would never allow that to happen, so it sounds like a total fabrication."

As to the union news release allegation that PHS deliberately fails to recruit staff and is unable to retain staff, Wilson noted that the average tenure at the Alameda County facilities is more than five years. Further, he said, there are 16 nurses currently scheduled for employment interviews--and there has been only one voluntary resignation among the nursing staff since March of this year.

PHS contracts with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department to provide medical services at the jails and has done so since 1989.

"We believe we have an exceptional offer on the table, and we would like to see it go to the union members for a vote before any walk-out occurs," Wilson said. "Our clinical and support staffs have done an excellent job for the patients entrusted to our care, and it's a shame that union leadership demeans this good work by making untrue allegations about the level of care at the facilities."

The facilities that PHS serves in Alameda County are accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare and the American Correctional Association.

Under the PHS offer, Wilson noted, a licensed vocational nurse with five years' service and earning just over $47,320 per year would go to nearly $63,689 per year by the end of a three-year contract--not including a 6% increase for all differentials and a weekend differential increase of 66%. A registered nurse with similar service would go from $78,083 per year to $97,115 at the end of a new three year agreement. Of course, any overtime is paid at a premium and would be on top of regular earnings.

PHS has been negotiating with the union since this summer. The previous contract expired in August, and the two sides have met in numerous negotiating sessions since the contract expired. The PHS across-the-board pay increases would be retroactive to August 2006.

If a strike takes place, PHS will continue to assure the health and safety of inmates using replacement staff.

"We put patient care first and have assured the sheriff's office that health care will continue with no interruptions," said Wilson.

PHS is the primary operating subsidiary of America Service Group, Inc. America Service Group Inc., based in Brentwood, Tennessee, is a leading provider of correctional healthcare services in the United States. America Service Group Inc., through its subsidiaries, provides a wide range of healthcare and pharmacy programs to government agencies for the medical care of inmates. More information about America Service Group can be found on the company's website at www.asgr.com or at www.prisonhealthmedia.com.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Dec 7, 2006
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