To the Times of Ti:
The registered nurses employed by Moses Ludington Hospital, represented by the New York Nurses Association (NYSNA), have been trying to negotiate a contract renewal since August 2012.
We have met with several roadblocks. The hospital’s original proposal contained language about our 401K and health insurance plan which would allow management to change them however they wanted. We indicated that we could not sign a legal contract giving management rights to make unilateral changes as preventing this is why we unionized and have the contract in the first place.
When the hospital representative stated that they could not have more specific language for some time, we agreed to wait for a concrete proposal. We did not receive a concrete proposal until they presented their final offer in January of this year. Part of the reason they gave for presenting a final offer was that negotiations had continued long enough. We feel this is unfair, as we have said we were willing to work them but they were unwilling to listen to our suggestions.
The nurses understand that the hospital continues to be in a precarious financial state. After our first session we indicated that we would consider a pay freeze for at least part of the contract. In the first year, this pay freeze and their proposed benefit cuts would add up to an overall decrease in compensation. In the second year of the contract, while they did offer a wage increase this would only result in salary essentially the same as last year’s. We have indicated a willingness to consider this, if they would agree to a two-year contract, so that we could re-evaluate the hospital’s financial status at that time. They stated they are not willing to consider a two-year contract and instead want to tie wage and pension payments for the third year to the hospital making a 2 percent profit. They included language in this proposal limiting NYSNA’s ability to assess the financial situation and did not include any mechanism for the nurses to have input on the management decisions in areas like construction, purchases or health insurance.
We are not seeking any big financial advantage in our contract negotiations. Over the last decade, NYSNA has worked with the hospital to bring nursing salaries into line with statewide standards for small rural hospitals, making it possible for us to attract and keep a skilled professional staff. For many years, contract negotiations followed a standard procedure. First, we would agree to extend the current contract until a new agreement could be reached. Secondly, we would ask for a raise, and the hospital would offer a lower amount, and within one or two sessions we would come to a compromise that left everyone satisfied. Now that salaries are reasonable by small hospital standards, we do not expect big raises.
However, this contract negotiation has been far less friendly and casual. Hospital representatives started with refusing to extend the contract during negotiations unless we agreed with some of their proposals at the outset. Then we were presented with a long document detailing how the hospital wanted to change many standard provisions of our contract. Most of these changes were to give the hospital more control over firings and discipline, and to change agreements that have been in place for decades. They have proposed doing away with the step program, standard at most hospitals, that pays nurses more based on years of experience. This is a standard because it encourages retention of experienced nurses. The hospital representative actually stated that they do not see a problem with being staffed by new nurses. While we agree that new nurses are the future of our profession, each of us needed an experienced mentor when we were fresh out of school to learn how to provide safe, quality nursing care.
We are still willing to consider the pay freeze and some of the benefit cuts that the hospital proposed if they would agree to a two-year contract and remove all their proposed changes to the contract that we have not yet agreed to. We might even specify that the contact talks at the end of two years would be limited to pay and benefits, to avoid another long series of negotiations. To date, management has refused to consider this and continues to dismiss the suggestions of the nurses who have lived and worked in the community for decades.
Carol McKeever, Putnam