Hospital, union working on new contract

GLOVERSVILLE – Nathan Littauer Hospital and some of its unionized health care workers have been unable to agree on a new contract.

The contract for the union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, expired June 30. The two sides have been negotiating since that time.

“We hope to have a resolution to this very soon,” a news release from the hospital said. “As we stated in the beginning of this process, without a doubt, the members of 1199 are valued members of the Littauer team.”

The union includes more than 375 hospital workers, including certified nursing assistants, nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, laboratory and radiation technicians, and dietary, housekeeping, central supply, pharmacy and maintenance employees.

No registered nurses are in the union. They are members of a separate union.

For the time being, provisions of the 1199 union’s previous contract have been extended.

The union says the hospital’s proposals for a new contract would jeopardize the workers’ pensions and their futures. The hospital’s proposals would have a serious effect on the day-to-day lives of the workers and their families by making significant changes to how they receive sick, vacation and personal time, 1199 spokeswoman Mindy Berman said.

The workers say funding the pensions at a sustainable level is a critical point of the negotiations because many of the workers have been there for decades and none are high-wage earners, so they have been counting on their pensions to fund their retirement.

“The workers do their part to ensure quality care,” Berman said. “They are asking that the management at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home do its part in upholding high standards that will benefit healthcare workers and the entire community.”

She said whether it is a janitor who cleans or a technician who operates equipment, the quality of work union members provide directly affects the overall appeal and service provided by the hospital.

“The members of the union and the members of the community are one [and] the same,” Berman said. “If you are going to do anything to jeopardize the livelihood of the workers at the hospital and nursing home, you will also be getting in the way of helping the economy of the area.”

Berman said at the last negotiations at the end of January, the hospital put its last and final offer on the table and wouldn’t move in negotiations.

The members have passed around petitions asking the hospital to agree to have a federal mediator come in to help the two sides come to a solution. The petition has more than 300 signatures.

The hospital has agreed to another meeting for contract negotiations March 11, when a federal mediator will be present, Berman said.

During the last meeting in January, the union moved on several issues agreeing there will be no insurance increase to the members if there is no increase to the employer, said the bulletin from the negotiations committee.

The bulletin also said the two sides are working on the terms of a three-year contract.

The workers claim the hospital is proposing more stringent requirements for time off and the workers would lose six of their “usable” days. Also, the workers said their cash-out for sick time after leaving in good standing or retiring would be totally eliminated.

“Every hospital in the region and most employers have moved to a combined time-off program,” Nathan Littauer said in a prepared statement. “We have migrated all 450 of our non-union employees to that system. It is only fair that we do the same for the 1199 employees.”

A respiratory therapist at the hospital, Martina LeBland, wrote a letter to The Leader-Herald describing the current negotiations between the hospital and the union.

“We are being offered a one percent raise, an increase in health insurance costs to us and a drastic change to the use of sick days available to us,” LeBland wrote. “Because there is an increase in cost to our pension fund, and the hospital is not willing to pay any part of that, we are expected to return our raise of one percent, to be applied to the fund.”

She wrote that because of all of this, the workers will bring less pay home than they currently do.

LeBland also wrote that hospital President and CEO Laurence E. Kelly has said Littauer has been operating in the black for the past 11 years – and Kelly also received a raise this year.

“We do not begrudge Mr.?Kelly this raise,” she wrote. “However, we believe that we should not be coming home with less pay, especially since NLH has been doing so well.”

“We understand the 1199 pension fund throughout the country is in trouble,” the hospital said in a prepared statement. “We truly feel terribly for our employees who must suffer the repercussions of their pension’s deficit. For years, our contract required that either the union or the unionized employees at NLH remedy those short-falls, not the hospital. Unfortunately, the union or the employees are faced with a significant shortfall in the pension plan.”

Another worker at the hospital also wrote a letter to the Leader-Herald about the contract dispute. Medical technologist Deven McDougall wrote that the trouble in negotiations isn’t just about money and benefits but the need for “good people who will take good care of the patients.”

“If NLH management makes wages and benefits unfavorable or uncompetitive, workers will quit and go to the other hospitals,” McDougall wrote. “Who will replace these workers? People of lesser quality who won’t work as hard or care as much about the patients.”

Members of the union said they will hold a “candlelight vigil” over the many issues raised on March 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. on East State Street.

Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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