Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shared Rewards?

Recently, Backus Hospital announced it's 2012 "Shared Rewards Program" and delegates have been getting questions.  Let me try to answer those questions.
The program consists of three parts; a discretionary matching contribution to the 402(b) plan, a pay for performance wage increase, and an end of the year bonus.

It is true that during negotiations we were offered the opportunity to continue participating in this program.  However, it is also true that this was an all or nothing offer, we could not, for instance, accept the year end bonus and negotiate for wage increases, insurance rates or other benefits.  It was a take what we are willing to give you or take nothing offer.

So, what's the bottom line, what can you expect.

You will not get a year end bonus. 
You will get 3% of earnings into your 403 (b).
You will get a 2.25% wage increase on June 1. 

Now, a little more explanation.

In addition to the 3% contribution to the 403(b), if you had been in the old pension fund and had at least 10 years service on 12/31/09 and your age and years service equals 55 or more, you will get an additional 3%  (a total of 6%).
Without this, 55+ people would be negatively impacted.

Your wage increase in June could be slightly higher if you are at the bottom of the pay range scale on page 33 of our contract because the range narrows each year. There are also a few individuals who will get no increase. They were credited with service as LPNs and Surgical Techs and were hired at a higher rate of pay because of this, and fall outside the range. These individuals know who they are and we owe them a promise to address this inequity in our next contract.

It is also important to remember that your wage increase is no longer tied to your evaluation.

Same history might be helpful.

At one time wages were tied to evaluations.  It became clear that some people and some departments were making much more than other people or departments.  I think this was a result of human nature and the fact that any evaluation of a nurse is subjective by nature.
So, the hospital changed to a set % wage increase each year that depended on how the hospital did financially and what the economy demanded to retain staff.

Then Wellspring consulting was hired.
Longevity and certification bonuses became history, replaced with a year end bonus set by the a handful of men who make up the board of trustees.  That year end bonus has been about 10% of the previous bonuses.
Shift and weekend differentials decreased.
Wages were returned to a subjective evaluation form, the total amount set by the board and divided among the employees.
Insurance rates, co pays, and deductibles climbed, income plunged, and experienced nurses left the hospital.  At the same time profits soared and those earning the most earned even more.

During negotiations, when we were offered the all or nothing opportunity to continue to participate in shared rewards, we asked if they could tie the "shared" part into something concrete.  In other words, each year the board decides how much it can "share" with the employees.  We asked, could that be tied to profit margin? or some other hard number?  The answer was no.

As nurses, we have economic responsibilities to our families and we have ethical responsibilities to our community to try to retain experienced colleagues..

If at the end of our contract, our members decide they would like to return to "shared rewards", we could negotiate for that.  I'm pretty sure the administration would be interested.

Depending on the board's generosity is one way to go, standing together is the other.

I'm reminded of a scene from Oliver Twist.  Oliver is hungry and asking for more food. 
"Please sir, I want some more."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Understanding our contract, Articles 53-61

Article 53, Health assessment and Disease Prevention
The hospital has the right to require employees to complete workplace related health assessments, and participate in workplace related preventative and disease control regimens.
(This is how they can require flu shots or masks.)

Article 55, Hospital Rules and Policies
The hospital can enforce existing and new rules and policies as long as they do not conflict with the contract.  The Union can demand that the hospital bargain the effects of any such change.  (this is how we can bargain the effects of flu shots)

Article 54, Technological Changes
The hospital may introduce new technology.  If the new technology requires a non-supervisory RN to perform, such position will be filled by a bargaining unit nurse and training will be provided.  Any bargaining unit job displaced by such change will be covered by article 23 (reduction of force) of the contract.

Article 56, Electronic Monitoring
The hospital may continue current and will notify the union of any new monitoring and will not monitor union activity.

Article 57, Contracting
The hospital has the right to contract outside the bargaining unit and will notify the union of any intent to permanent contracting of such work 60 days in advance.  the union may demand effects bargaining.  Any layoffs as a result will be governed by article 23 of the contract.

Article 58, Hospital Operation
The location, means and methods relating to the operation of the hospital and any closure, relocation, restructuring, or reconfiguration of the hospital is within the rights of the hospital and the union can demand effects bargaining.
(Many of these changes would also fall under the scrutiny of the state and would require a Certificate of Need, which we would monitor, and in which we would call on our political friends.  The recent opening of the Plainfield ED and affiliation with Hartford are examples we are currently monitoring.  Should such changes be a benefit to the community and our members we would endorse them.)

Article 60, Safety
The hospital and union recognize the obligation to provide a safe work environment.

Article 61, Duration
This contract is in force until May 16, 2015, when we will negotiate a new contract.

That ends our walk though of our contract, it was 118 years in the making, it's not perfect, but for a first contract, it's pretty good.  Future contracts will build on this one. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Understanding our contract, Articles 47-52

Article 47, Wages
After much negotiating, the final agreement for wages is a wage range, based on date of graduation with a degree in nursing.  The maximum and minimum in each range shrinks each year, starting at $1.50 and ending at $1.00.  The scale is in our contract on page 33.  Basically, it provided for an immediate increase for most nurses of 3%, an increase next June of 2.25%, and the following June of 1%.  Resource Center members will continue to receive $48/hour for the next 3 years.

Article 48, Health and Welfare
The hospital will offer Aetna POS  II or an equivalent plan for the life of the contract.  They will also offer the current Delta Dental plan.
The contract does call for increases in weekly payroll deductions, and they are spelled out on page 34 of the contract.  Increases will occur at the beginning of each year and are based on budgeted hours.
The % you see are the % of the total cost of the plan.  The increases are significantly less than we faced at the beginning of the negotiations.
The hospital will also offer the current vision plan without change in premiums.

Article 49, Short Term Disability and Article 50, Long Term Disability
The hospital will provide short and long term disability for non-work related injuries sat no cost to the members budgeted for 24 hours or more

Article 51, Life Insurance and Accidental Death and Dismemberment Coverage
The above coverages will be provided to members who are budgeted at 24 hours or more at no cost.

Article 52, Retirement Benefit
The hospital will continue the 403(b) plan and continue the 3% contribution each year and an additional 3% contribution to employes who participated in the old Pension Plan and had at least 10 years service on 12/1/09 and who's age plus years of service equals 55 or more. (this is the current practice)
The old Pension Plan remains frozen as of 12/31/09.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thank you, Michelle Hayes

My last post was about the power of We.  Soon after I wrote that we have an example of it in real life.

Our Vice President/Chief Delegate has tendered her resignation.  Family obligations have recently increased and they need her full attention at this time.  She felt that she could not continue to give the excellent service to the members as has become her trade mark.

I was not happy with this news and my first reaction was to try to figure some way to convince her that she could continue to "do it all."  I needed to step  back and realize that this was just me being selfish.  Michelle has been a critical part of our leadership since we started planning for negotiations. She has become my good friend and advisor.  I am confident that she will continue as one of our lead delegates and I'm sure I will continue to call on her for advice and support.

Melissa Hunter, our Secretary will step into the role of VP/Chief Delegate.  She is, without question, qualified for the position.  She has my full support and I'm sure the full support of the members.

Thinking back on all the people who have stepped forward in the past 2+ years to be of service to their fellow nurses, in the organizing drive, the negotiations, and post negotiations, underscores the fact that this is not my union, not Michelle's union, it is OUR union.  The load is carried by all. Yes, some people dedicate more time and energy but all contribute, and at times all must step back and let others lead.  That is the power of WE.

Those of us who lead do not do it alone either.  We are blessed with a strong relationship with our sister locals at L+M, other AFT CT locals, our state Federation and the southeastern CT labor community.

We are now looking for someone to step forward to serve as our Secretary.  Contact me know if you want more information about this chance to serve to your fellow nurses.  It is open to all members.

In closing I want to say thank you to Michelle.  Your service to your union has been an example for the rest of us. To those who served on the organizing committee, the negotiations committee, who knocked on doors, who came to negotiations, who serve now as delegates and communication liaisons, the membership thanks you.  That is the power of WE, that is solidarity. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We

Today is the sixth annual Blog Action Day, when thousands of bloggers from around the world will write "about one important global topic on the same day."
This year's topic is "The Power of We."
The Power of We is a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world, either for their own communities or for people they will never meet half way around he world.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
I grew up in an American Irish Catholic family.  I learned of Catholic social doctrine, which teaches that we are one human family, with a responsibility to care for the earth and the poor, and to respect the dignity of work and the rights of workers. I learned of the struggles of my ancestors in Ireland and in this country.  I learned what happened when they banded together to protect themselves and their families by becoming politically active.  My own grandfather took up this call in the Rhode Island state senate.

Now I practice as a Registered Nurse in a small community hospital in Connecticut.  Several years ago a cost cutting consultant was brought in.  In the years since then, the hospital has cut nurses wages and benefits, increased profit margin, and laided off our Licenced Practical Nurses during a nursing shortage.
This has led to an incredible turnover of nurses at our hospital, prompting Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy to refer to it as a "starter hospital", because nurses start their careers here and move on.
So two years ago we decided to band together, to use the Power of WE.
Facing strong administration opposition but with the support of our governor, representatives, senators, other labor unions, and the community, we voted and became the Backus Federation of Nurses, a local of the American Federation of Teachers
We are in our infancy as a local, but we have already seen what solidarity can do.

No longer are we "at will" employees.  Now there must be just cause to discipline or discharge.
No longer does administration have the last word.  We have a grievance procedure and arbitration by an independent arbitrator.
No longer can they just "walk us out" as they did to the LPNs.
No longer must nurses be afraid to openly advocate for themseves, their colleagues, or their patients.
My hope is that we have started a process that will lead to a hospital where young, talented nurses wish to come to work and even more, they wish to stay.

In the process of the formation of this union, I started this blog as a way to tell our story.  I was invited to join the National Writers Union, Local 1981, UAW. 
I am proud to stand in solidarity with my brother and sisters of AFT and the UAW, because together we have the Power of We, and together we can make a real difference in our communities, our nation and the world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mandatory flu shots

I'd like to address the issue of the new Backus Hospital policy on mandatory flu shots.  I realize that whenever you make something "mandatory" it makes people uneasy.  There's something very "big brother" about it.
I also understand that some people have a real belief that the flu shot either causes them to become sick or at least doesn't prevent illness, and some may have an true allergic reaction to it or medical condition that precludes them getting it.
Others have religious reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated.
I understand the these reasons and support those who have them.
I will also tell you that I believe in getting the shot and have already done so myself.

The hospital has instituted a new policy this year.  In short, you must get the injection or wear a mask whenever you are in a patient care area.  In addition, if you do not wish to receive the shot, you must have a medical or religious exemption. (the forms are available on line and must be submitted by October 31 to Employee Health).  The forms will be reviewed by the Hospital's Review committee.  If the Hospital Review committee disagrees with the exemption, the employee will be required to be vaccinated.
The Hospital has always had the right to introduce new policies such as this.  Under our contract, they retain this right.
Under our contract, we have the right to "effects bargaining" on new policies.  We can bargain the impact on us.
So, bargaining unit nurses will have the right to an appeal, should the committee deny their exemption. 
If an exemption is denied, we will file a grievance.  We will meet and try to resolve the grievance and if unable, we will bring the case to an independent arbitrator (agreeable to both sides) for a final ruling.  While waiting for the decision, the nurse will continue to work and will wear a mask.
Should the hospital committee or the arbitrator uphold the exemption, then that nurse will not be required to be vaccinated but will need to wear a mask.
The CDC has some good information on preventing the flu.
I wish you good health.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"All politics is local"

Tip O'Neil said that "All politics is local."
What he meant is that a politician's success is tied to his/her ability to understand the issues of their constituents.  The personal issues are often what the voters care about the most.
Last week I attended a political reception in Preston for Tim Boyles, who is running for State Rep from the 44th district.  In attendance were Governor Malloy, Rep Tom Reynolds, Kevin Ryan, Steve Mikutel, Senator Andrew Maynard, and many others. 
The reason I was there was twofold. 
Tim Boyles is a worthy candidate.  He is the selectman of Preston and a supporter of small business, farmers, the environment, education, and the workers of this area. I urge you to give him your support.
I was also there to promote the issues of the employees of Backus Hospital.  In fact, this first thing the Governor asked was "How are things at the hospital?" 
That question is echoed by all the politicians I speak to.  They care about what matters to us because what Tip O'Neil said is true.
Often, especially in this political season, the negative campaigning leaves us thinking that no politicians truly care about us.  Negative campaigning is an unfortunate part of the game.  The truth is, many politicians do care. 
They live in small towns, eat in local restaurants, send their children to local schools.  Most of them started out in town politics.  Many of them spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to understand the issues of their constituents so that they can represent them well.
Maybe you know one of your local politicians.  Maybe you've worked, socialized, worshiped, or gone to school with them. Maybe you see them in a local store.  If so, although you may disagree on the issues, you probably feel they are a good person, doing what they can to serve others.
It's impossible for us to get to know every official who represents us at the state and national level and it's impossible for them to get to know us all personally, but somewhere, in some small town, there are people who do know them, just like you may know your local official.
One of the dangers in our democracy is that we can feel that what we care about doesn't matter, and because of this stop participating, stop voting.
Tip O'Neil was right.  That's why, when I see the Governor, the first thing he asks me is "How are things at the hospital?"

Friday, October 5, 2012

Understanding our Contract, Articles 43-46

Article 43, Holidays
There are 6 paid holidays.
If you are off you are paid straight time for the holiday. (prorated, based on budgeted hours)
If you work the holiday, time will be credited to your vacation bank, and:
You receive time and a half if you work Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day,
You receive double time if you work New Years Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
Holidays falling on Saturday will be observed on the preceding Friday and holidays falling on Sunday will be observed on the following Monday. If the holiday is observed in this way (a Friday or Monday), and you work on the observed day, then you will be paid your regular salary plus $5/hour.
As an example: This year Christmas falls on a Sunday. If you work Dec 25, you receive double time. If you work December 26, you receive regular pay plus $5/hour. If you work the observed holiday, Dec 26, then you are credited to your vacation bank, if you are off, then you are paid straight time.
Every attempt will be made to rotate holidays and to give off Christmas Eve or New Years Eve to nurses working those holidays.

Article 44, Sick time
Sick time is accrued at the rate of 1 hour for each 40 hours worked and may be used once a nurse has worked 680 hours from date of hire.
Sick time may be used for illness, injury, health condition, medical diagnosis or treatment, and preventative care for an employee, their spouse or their minor child.
It may also be used when the employee is a victim of family violence or sexual assault to obtain medical or psychological care, services from victim services, to relocate, or to participate in civil or criminal proceedings related to such as assault.
Click HERE for info on Connecticut's new sick leave law.

Article 45, Vacation time
Accrual rate of vacation time depends on budgeted hours and years of service at the hospital. It is spelled out in the contract.
Vacation requests for the period of Memorial Day through Labor Day may be submitted in January and for Thanksgiving through New Years Day may be submitted in July.
All other full week vacations may be submitted starting 6 months before the schedule for that month. Less than full week vacations may be submitted approximately 5 weeks prior to the month in question. The Human Resources Department has a chart near the time clocks spelling this out.
There is currently a grievance on the time frame for submitting partial week vacations, so that could change. In a nutshell, the union believes that the hospital is misinterpreting the intent of the language and that we should not be held to the 5 week submitted time frame.

Article 46, Resignation
3 weeks notice is expected in a resignation and payout of unused vacation time is dependant upon such notice being given.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

United Way

She adverted her eyes as she approached on that cold winter day.  We handed her our leaflet anyway.  "We're the nurses of Backus Hospital and we're collecting food for the local food pantries".  She stopped, looked at us, and replied quietly, "I'm out of work and one step away from needing the food pantry myself."
We handed her information on United Way services and we wished her well as she went into the store.
Thirty minutes later she emerged with a small bag of groceries.  She reached in and took out a single can of tomato soup and placed it in our basket.  "I realized that as bad as things are, there are others who have it worse."
One of the nurses hugged her.

Luke writes, "As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

This was my introduction to the United Way.  Since then I have witnessed amazing things.  People giving out of their need.  Trucks being filled with food.  Many people being helped.  Unions and management working together for a good cause.

The annual United Way drive is going on right now at Backus Hospital.  I urge all who work there to give $1/week in payroll deductions.  It's simple, taking only a few minutes,'s $1. 
It might seem like $1/week won't make a difference, but added together with everyone else, it will! 
I have seen how one can of tomato soup from that lovely lady, added with others, filled a truck!

Together we can make a difference.