UTICA — After working for 14 months without a contract and participating in 31 bargaining sessions, registered nurses at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica have ratified a new four-year contract with hospital management.
While the majority of the nurses at St. Elizabeth’s were pleased with the final outcome — the new contract expires June 30, 2019, and was ratified with a 94 percent approval vote Wednesday — they did make some concessions, said Mike Pattison, who is a member of the executive committee for St. Elizabeth’s local branch of the New York State Nurses Association.
“A lot of the small concessions that we did make were pretty much looking for parity according to what St. Luke’s already has,” Pattison said. “But in order to move forward and get toward the meat of the contract, the things that were most important to our members, you do have to make those concessions. You can always work toward those next time.”
The concessions the nurses made were on things such as recognition of education, so pay would reflect what level of education employees had completed, Pattison said. The nurses also conceded on reimbursements for paid time off that goes unused, he said.
When asked for comment, a spokeswoman said Mohawk Valley Health System President/CEO Scott Perra wasn’t available to speak, but offered an emailed statement from him.
“I want to thank the NYSNA leadership and our nurses for their efforts in finalizing and adopting the contract. We are very grateful that our hospital can move forward and continue to provide safe, quality patient care for our community.”
The negotiations were the first since the hospital became a part of the Mohawk Valley Health System, and Pattison said the process doesn’t usually go as far as it did this time.
“We’ve got some more experienced members on our committee that have really only seen a strike vote probably one other time in recent history,” he said. “But this was the first time we’ve negotiated with MVHS and we put our heels in the ground on things that were very important to our nurses.”
The nurses had voted to strike for one day if there wasn’t a new contract by Sept. 1. Management had threatened to lock out nurses for five total days, including their strike day, if they went through with it.
But, after a 13-hour, overnight final bargaining session Aug. 26, the two parties were able to come to an agreement.
Changes agreed upon for the new contract can only be positive, because the nurses are key to patient satisfaction, he said.
“We’re the eyes and ears of the doctors,” Pattison said. “So we’re there to catch any patient condition changes. If we’re stressed for time and our resources are thin, that makes it difficult to catch those as easily and quickly.”
The agreement comes on the heels of a contract ratification at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown as well as a tentative contract agreement at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. The ratification vote at Nathan Littauer Hospital passed Thursday.
The whole ordeal is an example of why unions are important, despite the fact that they are fading away in today’s workplaces, Pattison said.
“Well-organized labor can affect change,” he said. “In this scenario, if we weren’t an organized bunch, we weren’t unionized, we’d be subject to whatever the hospital wants to do, it doesn’t matter, there’s nothing we can do about it. … A contract is necessary to keep both sides on the up and up and work together for the best for both sides.”
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