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Hospital, nurses continuing talks

September 22, 2011
By AMANDA WHISTLE , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - After 22 bargaining sessions and nearly a year of negotiations, the registered nurses bargaining unit at Nathan Littauer Hospital remains without a contract to replace the four-year pact that expired Dec. 31.

The RNs, represented by the New York State Nurses Association, say they're not at an impasse, but have had trouble settling non-economic issues within the contract, such as staffing, before they negotiate wages.

"A strike hasn't been ruled out, especially when negotiations are contentious. We're not at that point yet," said NYSNA spokesman Mark Genovese.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Kiernan said the hospital is not granting interviews at this time regarding negotiations, but she issued a written statement that said negotiations will continue and the hospital "hopes we can come to a resolution."

"Over the last 10 years, the members of NYSNA and Nathan Littauer Hospital have agreed on three contracts. Each of these contracts included wage increases averaging over 3 percent per year plus benefit increases. During this negotiation cycle, we have offered a wage increase, albeit less than past contracts, and we have asked for a modest benefit decrease. We have not proposed any reductions in staff nor have we reduced our nursing staff in at least 10 years," according to the statement.

On Friday, the nurses union held its second informational picket this year outside the hospital entrance on East State Street. The nurses held a similar picket in June, the first time in at least 15 years the union picketed.

"Even though they have continued to negotiate, [hospital] management still isn't budging from their position and we don't think that's reasonable," Genovese said.

Genovese said though a mediator was called into negotiations, the major sticking points in negotiating remain the same as they were months ago.

"It does go beyond [wages and benefits]. The contract sets the conditions under which the registered nurses work. It's more than just pay and benefits. The contact establishes factors such as staffing, one of their main concerns," Genovese said.

Genovese said the nurses haven't asked for a specific number of additional staff.

"Each unit has a different need, so it's hard to be able to give a flat number," he said.

Emergency room RN Charlie Eschler, a member of the bargaining team, said staffing in high-volume and critical-care units is the nurses' biggest concern.

Eschler said that in a questionnaire issued to the RNs at the hospital, the nurses responded 2-1 that the main issue they wanted to work out during negotiations was safe staffing.

A written statement issued by hospital spokeswoman Kiernan in January said the Joint Commission - an independent, nonprofit accreditation agency - did not report any staffing issues during its comprehensive site review.

Eschler, who has worked at the hospital since the 1980s, said the commission doesn't ask RNs about staffing.

"[The hospital is] not willing to even talk about one position. The only thing they've talked about is adding two [licensed practical nurses] positions to the extended care facility. We don't bargain for LPNs. They've already acknowledged the need for the LPNs, but they have kind of made it part of negotiations. They said they wouldn't hire those LPNs until the RNs settle the contract," Eschler said.

In another contract issue, Eschler said the hospital was looking for nurses who have more than 10 years of service to give back four hours a month of sick time.

The 10-year nurses accumulate sick time at a rate of 12 hours per month. Eschler said this would affect 90 members of the 144-member bargaining unit and equal a $1,900 to $2,000 give-back per nurse per year.



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