by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine AFT Vermont announced today that it is divesting its funds from New England Federal Credit Union, ratcheting up pressure on the University of Vermont Medical Center’s board of trustees, especially two members who also serve on the bank’s board. A press conference Thursday was held outside NECU’s Williston headquarters.
The nurses’ union, which is a member of the AFT, went on a two-day strike in July. The AFT is using its funds as leverage as it leans on the hospital to negotiate a new contract with hospital nurses.
Deb Snell addresses a press conference Thursday morning in front of NEFCU's headquarters in Williston. VBM photo.
Along with wages, the union wants better staffing, saying that the wage and staffing schedule is affecting recruitment and retention of nurses. They say more experienced nurses and better scheduling also will improve patient safety.
The nurses contract expired on July 9. It represents 1,800 nurses. The strike began on July 12. Nurses have been working without a contract since it expired.
AFT Vermont is the parent union of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, whose nurses are in collective bargaining talks with the hospital.
John Dwyer Jr is New England Federal Credit Union’s CEO and a member of the UVMMC board of trustees. Kathleen Emery-Ginn also serves on both boards.
“UVMMC board members have a unique influence on the hospital’s direction, including contract negotiations with its employees. It’s time for hospital board members to get involved, stand up for what’s right and encourage the hospital to take their nurses seriously,” said Deb Snell, president of AFT Vermont and executive vice president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
Snell said negotiations are about where they were when the nurses went on strike. The two sides have met once since and will meet again on August 13.
In July, Snell wrote to all UVMMC board members, asking for a meeting to discuss working together on such patient safety issues as the hospital’s 170 nurse vacancies and the $21 million spent on out-of-town temporary nurses to fill the gap.
Board Chair Allie Stickney responded on behalf of all board members and declined to meet, leaving it up to hospital management, which, she said in her letter, is their job.
“We all care so much about this institution that is the University of Vermont Medical Center,” Stickney wrote in her response to the union, “and that comes through loud and clear in your letter. The Board of Trustees joins you in that sentiment. We will all need to figure out a way to come together and to heal after the contraction negotiations are completed.”
NEFCU President Dwyer told the Burlington Free Press after the union press conference that it’s the job of the trustees to advise and counsel management and that it would not be appropriate for the board to get in the middle of it.
He added that if the union or individual members chose to close their accounts that, of course, the bank would do so.
NEFCU has about 90,000 members and $1 billion in assets.
“We as an organization … respect any member’s choice to close an account,” he told the Free Press.
As for the labor situation, Dwyer said, “We support the nurses completely.”
He reiterated that the hospital is an important part of the community and the negotiations are solely between management and the union.
Snell declined to say exactly how much money they had in the credit union, but when asked it was several hundred thousand dollars, she nodded her head. She said they would seek out another credit union with which to do business.
“AFT Vermont wants to do business with companies whose board members have the best interests of our community in mind,” Snell said. “So far, Dwyer and Emery-Ginn have failed to step up so we’re cutting ties.”
AFT Vermont is asking other organizations and individuals to join them in divesting its funds from New England Federal Credit Union to show solidarity with the nurses.
On Monday, the nurses’ union released a survey finding that patients have to wait months to get medical appointments, indicating an acute staffing shortage, they said.
On behalf of the UVMMC, spokesman Michael Carrese said in a statement:
“Our goal from the outset of negotiations with the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals has remained the same: to address the concerns nurses have raised while also balancing our commitment to providing high quality, affordable health care in our community.
“We have done this by doubling our wage offer, agreeing to substantial increases for nurses in different roles, responding to staffing concerns, and enhancing benefits instead of asking for concessions, as is common in many labor negotiations around the country.
“We will be back at the table Monday and Tuesday with the assistance of a federal mediator negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement. We believe both sides owe it our community to focus our energies there.”