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Unionized nurses ratify new contracts with St. Elizabeth, Samaritan Medical Centers

By Eric Reinhardt

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Nurses at St. Elizabeth Medical Center (SEMC) in Utica and Samaritan Medical Center (SMC) in Watertown voted to ratify new contracts ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Nurses at SMC on Aug. 31 ratified a new five-year deal, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) said in a news release issued that day.

Later that same night, NYSNA announced that nurses at SEMC had also ratified a new four-year contract.

NYSNA is the union representing nurses at each facility.

Both hospitals had earlier reached tentative agreements with NYSNA, avoiding one-day strikes on Sept. 1 and nurse lockouts at each location.

Both NYSNA statements included similar language, noting that the tentative agreements required “federal mediation” and followed “hours of arduous negotiation.” 

“The parties are pleased that they have jointly found creative solutions to address the staffing concerns raised by the nurses. This agreement is subject to ratification.

The strike and lockout notices have been withdrawn,” NYSNA said in statements announcing both tentative agreements.

Nurses that NYSNA represents at both hospitals had planned a one-day strike on Sept. 1. Both SEMC and SMC had countered with a plan to lock the nurses out.

The Utica hospital had notified NYSNA of its plan to lock out the nurses and hire temporary ones for coverage through Labor Day, the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) said in a news release issued Aug. 24.

MVHS is an affiliation of SEMC and Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare, both of Utica. The two organizations teamed up in March 2014.

SEMC had been negotiating with NYSNA for more than 14 months, MVHS said.

SMC had also planned to hire temporary replacement nurses for a period of 11 days beginning on Sept. 1, the organization said in a news release on Aug. 18.

SEMC contract
The new SEMC contract replaces one that had expired. The new four-year contract will expire on June 30, 2019, NYSNA said.

“On behalf of the nurses who work day and night at St Elizabeth, we are thrilled to ratify this agreement,” Mike Pattison, registered nurse (RN) at SEMC, said in the NYSNA news release. “This contract takes measures to provide adequate staffing so the patients get the care they deserve, it helps the nurses by giving them adequate benefits so we can attract and keep the best of the best, and it gives the hospital a workforce that makes good business sense. The nurses would like to thank the community for all of their support over the last 14 months as well as the Mohawk Valley Health System for working with us during negotiations.”

The new SEMC contract calls for an additional five full-time employees, “improved” response to short staffing, and new committees on which nurses will have a “true voice” in staffing, NYSNA said.

The new SEMC pact also calls for wage increases totaling 9 percent over the life of the contract, the union added.

The contract also calls for a health-insurance plan that replaces “the base plan with a superior health plan” at a reduced cost.

SMC contract
Ratification of the SMC contract concluded 13 months of negotiations between the two organizations, according to NYSNA.

The new contract replaces one that expired on Aug. 1, 2015, with several contract extensions, the last of which ended July 6, 2016. The new five-year contract will expire on Aug. 1, 2020.

“We are so pleased to have settled this contract and to have negotiations behind us,” Deborah LaMora, RN at Samaritan Medical Center and NYSNA co-chairperson, said in the NYSNA news release on the SMC contract. “We feel that it benefits the registered nurses and the hospital. The new contract opens up new opportunities for us and management to work together to insure safe and proper staffing levels. It truly is a win-win.”

The “mutually beneficial” contract includes agreements on “major” issues, such as pension; health insurance; and paid time off and wages.

SMC and NYSNA also resolved the staffing issue during the negotiations, the union said.

NYSNA had initially proposed mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios, but the two parties agreed instead to “alternative solutions that would insure safe staffing levels in all areas.”

Under the agreement, SMC will “purchase and implement” a patient-classification system, which determines staffing needs based on the acuity level of patients at any given time using real-time information directly from the patients’ electronic-medical record.

The hospital will create nursing-staffing committees in each of the seven clinical-practice areas throughout the hospital.

The committees include the unit’s nurse manager; a minimum of two RNs from the unit and an equal number of management, as well as a representative from NYSNA.

The committees will meet to address clinical practice, staffing and workflow improvements in their respective units, including nurse vacancies; patient volume and flow; staffing mix; and other staffing-related items.

The new contract also calls for SMC to create a nursing-resource team to “immediately” respond to and address any situation in which a nurse feels that staffing is unsafe.

At the request of the nurse, SMC will convene the team on the unit in need, at the time of need.

The team includes the nursing supervisor, the nurse manager of the unit, and the nurse requesting the team.

Together, this team will evaluate the situation and make a staffing determination “immediately.”

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com

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