Nurses union notifies hospital of intent to strike

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Nurses union notifies hospital of intent to strike

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 10:14am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals announced Monday morning they intend to strike the UVM Medical Center in Burlington for two days next week. The hospital and union had worked several days late last week in order to find a resolution, but were unsuccessful. The union represents 1800 nurses and 300 technical professionals.

Nurses plan to strike at 7 am on Thursday, July 12 until 7 am on Saturday, July 14. Except for the strike dates, they will work without a contract after July 9 when their contract expires, they said, pending a contract or further labor action.

In response to the anticipated strike, UVMMC spokesman Michael Carrese told VBM: "We have engaged the help of an agency that specializes in these situations to provide highly-trained nurses to fill the roles of those who choose to strike. Our planning is based on the goal of continuing to provide patient care with as little disruption as possible, and keep any scheduling changes to a minimum. Of course patients will be notified in advance of any changes. The vast majority of patients will not see any impact from the work stoppage. Patients should keep the appointments they have for July 12th and 13th. If any patients or family members have questions or concerns they can call 1-877-697-6015."

Much of the union argument is focused on staffing. The VFNHP had already authorized a strike. The hospital and union went through a similar process three years ago. A strike was averted then.

The nurses maintain "a bargaining platform that places safe staffing front and center - raising wages to recruit and retain nurses and support staff as a means of addressing chronic understaffing and provider burnout at our region’s flagship medical center."

Union President Laurie Aunchman, RN, SICU, has worked at UVM Medical Center since 1976. 

"We're here about the patients," she said at a sweltering press conference Monday morning just outside the hospital north entrance. "It's not about the money."

But money makes a big difference in staffing, union representatives said, because nurses will be hired, trained and leave for better pay, they said.

Union President Laurie Aunchman, RN, with Julie MacMillan, Post-Anesthesia Care Unit nurse and Lead Negotiator for VFNHP, speaks at the press conference Monday morning. VBM photos.

Nurses have maintained that uncompetitive wages for nurses and support staff are the root cause of chronic understaffing at the hospital, negatively impacting patient care and leading to burnout and high levels of turnover at the hospital. To solve the problem the union is proposing a wage package of 10%, 4%, 4% over three years for nurses, to include annual 2% step increases, along with a $15/hr floor for all UVMMC employees effective immediately. 

"The UVM Medical Center committed to having a wage floor in 2006, and has planned for several years to reach a $15 minimum wage in 2020 as our financial results permit," Carrese said. "All nurses make well above minimum wage."

The union is supported by 43 state Representatives and Senators who on Monday sent a letter to UVMMC CEO John Brumsted urging him to “work collaboratively with the nurses to ensure recruitment and retention of high-quality medical and support staff.”

The language used by the union has become more trenchant.

They are claiming "unfair labor practices," and "intimidation" by management in regards to labor fliers being removed and management denying the ability of union representatives and rank and file to discuss union issues during breaks in non-medical areas of the hospital. 

On June 1, the Union filed 20 Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board; later amending and re-filing the same charges on June 8.

Eileen Whalen, RN, President and Chief Operating Officer of UVMMC said in a statement Monday afternoon: 

“We are very disappointed the union has chosen to issue a strike notice because, as we’ve said all along, we know we can reach an agreement if we stay at the table, as we have done in the previous five contract settlements.

“We simply believe a 24% wage increase is not realistic. Over the past three months of negotiations, we have listened closely to the union’s concerns and have responded by moving in their direction on many proposals. On wages, we have nearly doubled our offer from 7% over three years to 13% over three years, plus very significant increases beyond that depending on what kind of nursing they do. 

“We owe it to our community to keep working as hard as possible to reach agreement and avoid the disruption a strike would cause.  We are hoping to schedule more negotiations and are working with a federal mediator to keep the lines of communication open.  

“We want our community to know that if a strike occurs, we will be prepared to continue providing quality care to our patients and families with as little disruption as possible.”

Of the wage sticking point, the union said that the wage comparison management has been using has not been to other Tier 1 trauma centers, but to smaller hospitals without the medical requirements of a Tier 1 facility. For instance, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) in Plattsburgh, NY, is not a Tier 1 and the highest-need patients in Upstate New York are sent to UVMMC.

CVPH nurses have a higher base wage than UVMMC nurses. As a starting point, the UVMMC nurses union wants to start at the CVPH level and then move up from there. Neither the union nor UVMMC had information on wages at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. D-H is the only nearby Tier 1 center and serves many Vermont patients from its Lebanon, NH, campus.

Carrese told VBM: "On CVPH wages: It is true that pay is about a dollar an hour higher for starting nurses, but our nurses can earn more in a shorter period of time as they move up the ladder. Each hospital (or any employer for that matter) deals with a different mix of factors that impact recruiting and retaining nurses. For example in this case you have different states, and a different union as just two elements to consider. In the end, CVPH’s nurses, like ours, are paid competitive wages based on local and regional market analysis."

The union also claimed that they were told by management that CVPG nurses were "overpaid."

In response to that, Carrese told VBM, "What our negotiating team conveyed to the union is that CVPH is paying a higher rate than what our analysis of the market indicates due to its own recruitment and retention challenges, many of which are similar to those faced by community hospitals throughout northern New York."

The union has also compared their pay increases to top executives at UMMMC and its parent organization The UVM Health Network, which includes CVPH, Central Vermont Medical Center (Berlin), Porter Hospital (Middlebury) and two other smaller hospitals in Upstate New York. 

The union issued a Fact Sheet:

1. UVMMC CEO compensation has risen 625% since 1997.
     a. The top 15 employees made a combined $10.7 million in 2016.
     b. Board Compensation Chair Scottie Emory-Ginn justifies CEO Brumsted’s $2.1 million/yr salary:
          i. “It’s what we need to keep and attract the right leaders at our organization.”
2. UVMMC APRNs are the lowest paid in the state of Vermont.
     a. This contributes to high turnover, burnout, and low morale.
3. Even with proposed 3% raise, new nurses at UVMMC will make $2/hr less than CVPH in 2019.
     a. UVMMC is actually proposing to cut wages for new nurses from $26.80 to $25.92.
     b. Young nurses are often shouldering 5- to 6-figure student debt loads
4. UVMMC has 172 vacant nurse and technical professional positions.
     a. There are currently 26 traveling nurses, paid on average over $70/hr, working in the Emergency Department alone.
5. UVMMC is a major reason why Vermont is tied for #1 in nursing job openings per capita.
     a. Vermont ranks 47th and 48th in RN wages when adjusted for cost of living.

Whalen said in a statement Sunday after negotiations had ceased: “While progress was made after many hours of hard work at the bargaining table this weekend, we unfortunately were not able to reach agreement.  We are very disappointed the union has chosen to issue a strike notice because, as we’ve said all along, we know we can reach an agreement if we stay at the table.

“We owe it to our community to keep working as hard as possible to reach agreement and avoid the disruption a strike would cause.  We are hoping to schedule more negotiations and are working with a federal mediator to keep the lines of communication open.

“We want our community to know that if a strike occurs, we will be prepared to continue providing quality care to our patients and families with as little disruption as possible.”

WAGE PROPOSAL DETAIL (presented by UVMMC)

The union is asking for a 24% increase over the 3-year contract.

Our proposal is 13% over 3 years plus increases beyond that depending on what kind of nursing you do.  For instance, most outpatient nurses will receive a 21% wage increase in the next two months to make their pay equal to what inpatient nurses receive.   Here is a breakdown of pay increases under the UVM Medical Center proposal:

 

Range of Increase over 3 Years

Average Increase over 3 Years

New Average Salary at end of 3 Years

Nurse Practitioner

12.62% - 25.49%

13%

$119,000

Ambulatory Nurse

10.23% - 26.27%

25%

$84,000

Inpatient Nurse

7.34% - 14.45%

14%

$84,000