Thursday, April 5, 2012

The bottom line

It seems to me that in order to come to a contract agreement we need to first agree philosophically to what we are trying to accomplish.  On this matter I actually think we can come to agreement. These are my thoughts on where we all stand at this point.

I think we can all agree that retention of qualified nurses is a good thing for the nurses and the hospital.  Every several months the hospital hires a group of new graduate nurses into the residency program.  Getting into the program is highly competitive and a considerable amount of time and money is spent on training.  I think we can all agree that retaining the highest number possible is in every one's interest, from a financial standpoint and certainly from a patient safety standpoint.

Nurses at all other union hospitals know what they will be making from year to year because they are on a step system.  They can even tell, 10 years from now, what they can expect.  Having said that, it's important to realize that these steps are not set in stone.  First, the nurse must continue to perform up to standards.  Second, from contract to contract these steps must be adjusted for inflation and changes in the economy.  This includes, not only upward adjustments for inflation, but wage freezes and even wage givebacks if the hospital in question is facing hard times.  Our union has negotiated such givebacks and freezes, because it is no one's interest for a hospital to go bankrupt.  Such relative certainty has proven positive in retention of qualified nurses.

When we talk retention we must talk both wages and insurance premium costs, because it's not how much you make that's the most important, it's how much you keep.

I believe that the starting point of discussion must be the point where a nurse does not fall behind.  If take home pay decreases from year to year we will have poor retention, high training costs, and poorer patient care and safety. It cannot be "another day older and deeper in debt" and be sustainable.

As currently proposed by management, insurance premiums will increase by year 3 of the contract between $46-$138/week, depending on full time, part time, employee only, employee + 1, or family. 

For us to retain nurses we need to at least balance wages and insurance premiums, it's that simple.

Under our current management proposal wages would increase $14-$18/week for the resident nurse by year 3 of the contract.

This results in a net loss of $2,139-5,877/year, again depending on full time, part time, employee only, employee +1, or family.

We need to balance these and provide a modest overall increase if we wish to retain qualified nurses.

Financially we are lucky in that Backus is in good position. The financial figures just released by the hospital to the state for the fiscal year that ended last fall show an operating margin of just over 9%, the highest of any hospital in Connecticut, with a total net profit of just over $25 million.  This is good news for us.  It means Backus will be able to meet it's financial responsibilities, including wages, and is in great position to expand should the opportunity arise.  I commend the financial people for a job well done.

Looked at another way, if management needed, they could increase each nurses salary by $35/hour and break even.

I do not think such an increase is needed.  I believe a modest increase each year, after increases in insurance premiums are factored in, and the relative certainty of a wage step scale will be enough to retain qualified nurses and ensure the continued financial strength of our hospital and the safety of our patients.

We meet again for negotiations on this Monday, April 9th, 6:00, at the Courtyard Marriott.  I would like us to come to the table in philosophical agreement on this issue.  I believe that if we do we can work out the details to be in every one's interest and, as the governor said, "get it done."


john way said...
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john said...
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