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Lutheran nurses OK 3-year contract
Salary increase, additional hires, no givebacks highlight pact
by Michael Hirsch | February 28, 2013 New York Teacher issue
Some 700 registered nurses at Brooklyn’s Lutheran Medical Center represented by the Federation of Nurses/UFT on Feb. 15 overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract that held the line on health benefits and pensions. It also featured a pay increase totaling 6.5 percent and an agreement to hire 25 additional nurses to deal with understaffing, a chronic health industry problem.
In the six weeks of tense and often-contentious negotiations, Lutheran management had been seeking to make nurses contribute to their health care premiums and to create a two-tier pension plan with reduced benefits for future hires.
“Our committee of elected RN leaders was determined to speak with one voice through our union,” said Anne Goldman, the special representative for the Federation of Nurses, who led the negotiations. “We made clear to the employer that we would not accept any change or modification to our health benefits or pension benefits for our current members or for members who will be hired during the life of the contract. This was a strike issue.”
The union emphasized the need for strong recruitment and mentoring programs to help new nurses become comfortable with the challenging roles that they would play, said Goldman.
Goldman said that there was also lengthy debate at the bargaining table about the need for the employer to improve nurse-to-patient ratios so nurses could deliver appropriate care to patients.
“As patient advocates, the union emphasized all the components necessary to support nurses providing care,” Goldman said.
Dina Grillo, a medical-surgical unit nurse and a member of the union’s bargaining team, noted that Lutheran management at first claimed that the union’s demand for additional staff was too costly. “We asked them, ‘What price do you put on a human life?’ and told them that smaller nurse-patient ratios mean more eyes on the shift,” Grillo said.
The negotiations also provided an opening to resolve some non-contractual issues. The union seized the opportunity to draw Lutheran management’s attention to the lack of cleanliness in some patient care areas and nursing stations.
“We said that as health care workers, we had the right to a clean, professional environment,” said Andre Orlov, a nurse in the adult psychiatric unit and a bargaining team member. “We knew we had the law on our side and that there was no reason to put sanitary provisions in the contract.”
The union received a verbal commitment from Lutheran that it would institute monthly walkthroughs by a joint labor-management team to monitor sanitary conditions throughout the facility.