Our twelfth meeting with the Union was July 17, 2014. Although we remain concerned with the pace of negotiations, given the fact that the contract expired more than one month ago, we appreciated the professional and collegial tone.
There was give and take on both sides, which is the way that bargaining is supposed to work. As a result, we have our first verbal tentative agreements. They concern the contract provisions on Staffing and Professional Development and Monthly Union-Management Meetings.
We gave the Union counterproposals on Uniforms, Displacement and Layoff, revised Health Insurance, On-call, Transport Team, and Respite Care. They gave us counterproposals on Health Insurance, Uniforms, and two rounds of counterproposals on Displacement and Layoff.
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Wages and pension remain the big sticking points. We held our position on both.
Three key facts are relevant to the wage discussion. First, Crozer nurses are paid at rates that are far above what nurses at comparable hospitals receive. Second, Crozer-Keystone Health System continues to operate at a severe deficit because of declining reimbursement and inpatient volumes. The performance of individual hospitals is debatable, but does not disguise the financial challenges facing our integrated health system. Third, non-bargaining unit employees have not had a wage increase since September 2012 – almost 1-3/4 years ago.
For those reasons, comparisons to wage increases for LIUNA workers or nurses at other hospitals who are paid at or below market don’t make sense. Adopting a wage scale for RNs comparable to a hospital like Temple, as we have proposed, is reasonable given the circumstances we face.
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We also rejected the Union’s pension proposal. We showed the Union team that the so-called “Massachusetts Plan” is risky at best. It will do nurses no good to depend on a plan for their retirement that is unsustainable – such as the current pension plan – or shaky like the Steward Hospital/MNU Plan proposed by the Union.
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Bargaining resumes August 4. We hope for another productive session, and remain open to scheduling more dates so that material issues can be addressed more quickly.
We appreciate the Union’s professional and collegial approach. But we cannot continue to follow the status quo indefinitely. We must have changes that bring RN wages, pay practices, and benefits to sustainable levels, and we must complete them before our financial challenges become even more acute.