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2,000 nurses set to strike next week as UVMMC and union remain at odds

A lawn red sign that reads 'Safe Staffing Saves Lives"  and the name of the union is displayed in the plants along a sidewalk
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
A sign in front of a Burlington home in support of the union representing around 2,000 nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The union issued a five-day strike notification for next week. If it happens, it could cost the hospital over $10 million and would be the second nurses strike since 2018.

Update: Late on Wednesday, July 3 the union announced it was calling off the strike authorization. You can read the latest here.

Plane tickets bound for Vermont and hotels around the Burlington area are getting booked for next week, when an anticipated 500 nurses will likely arrive to temporarily work at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

That’s after the union representing around 2,000 nurses, the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, issued a strike notification Monday night at the end of a bargaining session with hospital leaders.

Negotiations have been ongoing since April, and the two sides remain at odds over wage increases.

Union representatives say they need better salaries to get new nurses to work at the hospital and keep them there. Their current proposal calls for about a 30% increase over the next three years, which they say would bring the hospital in line with pay at other Level 1 trauma centers across the country, based on the cost of living.

Meanwhile, officials at UVM Medical Center have said they can’t raise wages more than 20% over the next three years without raising commercial insurance rates or cutting services.

The difference between the two proposals stands at around $38 million, according to a hospital representative.

More from Vermont Public: Nurses at Vermont's largest hospital consider weeklong strike

The impasse has left union members to call for a strike starting Friday, July 12 and lasting five days.

“We either leave now temporarily, or watch even more of our best nurses leave to travel or create roots with an institution that respects them more,” Deb Snell, president of the union and longtime ICU nurse at the hospital, wrote in a press release this week.

"None of us want to go on strike," said Benton Taylor, a nurse and member of the union bargaining unit. "We want to come to an agreement — we want to be valued, we want to be competitive, we want to bring people here, we want to take care of our community."

It’s something the hospital has also been hoping to avoid.

“We do not believe a strike is the answer — it will cost a lot of money, it impacts patients who have scheduled procedures, and it causes huge emotional stress to the hospital,” Dr. Stephen Leffler, the president of the medical center, said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

A sign that says "Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals." Behind it, across the road are large buildings belonging to the hospital.
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
The office of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals is across the road from the UVMMC medical complex in Burlington. The hospital is preparing to bring in about 500 temporary nurses to work there next week.

He estimates a five-day strike would cost the hospital between $10 to $15 million in total, and says the medical center will spend $1.7 million on hotels and travel expenses for temporary staff by this week.

“We need those people to show up here early to be credentialed, to get badges, to get orientation, to take mandatories," Leffler said, "They’ll start showing up in four days."

The nurses' contract doesn’t expire until early next week — and there are two more scheduled bargaining sessions. Still, a strike appears likely.

"People are pretty upset, and they are struggling and they don’t feel like they have a lot of power," said Taylor.

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Updated: July 3, 2024 at 5:44 PM EDT
This story has been updated with the perspective of a member of the union's bargaining team.
Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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