Negotiators met Monday as contract talks between Brooks Memorial Hospital and 1199 SEIU, the union representing workers who are not registered nurses, continue in an effort to replace the contract that expired April 30. That three-year agreement was signed in April 2011 and provided wage increases of at least 6.6 to 9.5 percent over the life of the contract, based on years of service.
The contract covers licensed practical nurses, clerical, service and maintenance workers. 1199 SEIU's Kathy Ville is working on the talks, which she said are stuck.
"We've been at it for a while and progress is very slow. The management is proposing, from our prospective, a lot of concessionary language that we have trouble with," Ville explained. "We haven't even got into a lot of economic discussions because we're trying to reach agreement on layoff language that maintains employment for more senior people, and management has proposals on the table that doesn't do that. So it's very slow going.
Brooks Memorial Hospital
"It's a very senior workforce that has worked very hard for a long time for these benefits and these raises and benefits, not just the money, but the language. They want to rewrite it, from our perspective, to go with what UPMC thinks they should do. They of course deny that, but we're pretty sure that's where the directive is coming from, especially when there's articles in the paper that say they're getting management help from UPMC."
Ville said UPMC, based in Pittsburgh with facilities in Erie and Fredonia, does not have employees with union representation.
"Actually, they're very historically anti-union, In fact, an SEIU local in Pennsylvania has been trying to organize some of their people and it has been a very adversarial situation," she added. "I don't think they really understand what it means to have a union workforce, or they don't want to understand, one or the other."
Ville, who has been at SEIU for 10 years, said the current hospital management has a different approach than its predecessors.
"I wouldn't ever say that the prior management had a warm fuzzy toward the union either, but they made a little more effort. They're proposing a lot of drastic changes to re-write essentially the whole contract and the whole job descriptions, what people do and how much they get paid. It's a lot to expect people to be able to do with the rush that they're putting on.
"Really, they've pretty much told us through several powerpoint presentations that they think, and I'm going to be very blunt, that the staff, a portion of the staff, is overpaid and they need to make cuts. The problem is we can't even get past language like layoffs, maintaining employment for more senior people, to get into those issues."
According to Ville, Brooks is using an attorney to negotiate, something that was not done previously.
"That's a big change. Usually we just work with management to negotiate the contract, and they're paying lots of attorneys to do lots of things for them these days," she added. "Grievances, negotiations, due diligence on whether they should do a pro-merger with UPMC. So there's money to spend but they want to spend it where they want to balance their losses on the backs of the people that are actually doing the work everyday."
The employees are still working under terms of expired contract on an extension that lasts some 10 more days.
"We're hoping to get a fair contract that maintains people's wages and benefits and helps the more senior folks maintain employment," Ville stated. "That's why we're here. That's why we've been here since March."
Terry Dunford is the Director of Public Relations for Brooks Memorial Hospital.
"Senior management at Brooks is currently involved in contract negotiations with our Service Employees union, SEIU 1199," Dunford told the OBSERVER on Friday. "Our goal at senior management really remains to achieve a new contract that's equitable to the hard-working employees here at Brooks, which will help us build a strong, secure future for the hospital. Both Brooks management and the union agreed to bring in the federal mediator and we're still hopeful that the mediator will help us move this process forward to an amicable outcome.
"We're hopeful. Our goal here is to insure long-term stability for Brooks to remain here in Dunkirk."
On Tuesday, Dunford said some progress has been made since the federal negotiator had gotten involved and the next negotiating session would be held Monday.
The contract with 1199 SEIU is not the only concern for Brooks' management; the contract with more than 100 registered nurses expires at the end of June.
"We had our first meeting today with the nurses' union," Dunford said Tuesday. "The first conversation was very cordial and very professional. It set the stage for further negotiations. "We're hopeful. Our goal here is to insure long-term stability for Brooks to remain here in Dunkirk."
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