UVM Medical Center And Nurses Union Headed Back To Bargaining Table Next Week
Union nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center went on strike for two days last week after their contract expired and no new agreement could be reached. Now that the strike is over, both sides are coming back to the bargaining table,but difficult issues remain.
The contract negotiations have been going on since late March, and the union and the hospital have yet to come to an agreement. As the two sides prepare to resume bargaining sessions next week, the central issue remains pay increases for nurses.
Before the strike, the hospital offered a 14-percent pay increase over the next three years. During the strike, it reduced its proposal to a 13-percent increase over three years.
The nurses union, however, is holding out for a 23-percent increase.
Both UVM Medical Center president Eileen Whalen and Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals president Laurie Aunchman discussed the status of the situation on VPR's Vermont Edition Wednesday.
Whalen said that she thinks the union's demand is unfeasible, in part because hospital administration has to consider all its employees.
"The impact of a 23-percent raise for one group in the organization will have significant impact on the rest of the organization," Whalen said. "So I think it's really important that I look at all my employees and look at what's fair for all my employees."
"The impact of a 23-percent raise for one group in the organization will have significant impact on the rest of the organization. So I think it's really important that I look at all my employees and look at what's fair for all my employees." — Eileen Whalen, president of UVM Medical Center
Meanwhile, Aunchman said she feels that in addition to higher nurses pay, the hospital must increase the minimum wage for all staff.
"I think what's happening is that our nurses are saying 'We've had enough,'" Aunchman said. "These are the tools that we need, whether it be wages, whether it be ancillary help — that's why we're pushing for a $15 minimum wage for ancillary help."
Pay increases remain a major sticking point, but the two sides have been able to resolve several other issues during the negotiations.
The hospital has agreed to pay outpatient nurses the same as inpatient nurses starting in September, rather than phasing the increase in over time. Per diem nurses, who are hired on a day-to-day basis, will also see their pay structure improve.
Additionally, supervisory "charge" nurses will no longer have direct patient assignments, allowing them to concentrate more on quality and safety during their shifts.
"We're currently working with our bargaining committee right now. Our goal is to have a fair and equitable contract. It's not to go out on strike again. We are committed to our hospital, we are committed to our patients, and we want this to be done as well." — Laurie Aunchman, president of Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals
At this stage, it's unclear how the union and the hospital will resolve their differences. Going forward, Whalen suggested there needs to be more flexibility in the negotiations.
"I think we have to be creative because a 23 percent [pay increase], given the responsibilities the medical center has, is unrealistic," Whalen said.
Speaking for the nurses union, Aunchman said all options are on the table.
"You know, anything's negotiable. We're currently working with our bargaining committee right now," Aunchman said. "Our goal is to have a fair and equitable contract. It's not to go out on strike again. We are committed to our hospital, we are committed to our patients, and we want this to be done as well."
Negotiations are set to resume next week.