Negotiations will resume Thursday and Friday after nurses and technical workers soundly rejected a contract proposal from Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Sunday night.
In the meantime, the union was sending a required 10-day strike notice for the contract that expires July 31 and the hospital has a plan in place should a strike occur.
“We have prepared a comprehensive plan to ensure seamless operations and delivery of patient care to our community,” the hospital administration said in a message to its employees Monday. It also warned that any costs associated with providing substitute workers during any potential work stoppage, which could amount to millions of dollars, would affect pay and benefit levels it could offer in the contract.
Union leaders have asked Mayor Javier Gonzales and members of Santa Fe City Council to meet with them Tuesday evening to hear their concerns. In a letter to them Monday, Fonda Osborn, president of Local 1139 NM of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers, noted that staffing issues were the major concern and told city officials that union members “pointed to the lack of staffing shifts with the proper amount of nurses and assistants and the practice of forcing employees to work ungodly hours.
“Who in their right mind expects good results from a nurse who is required to work many times over 16 straight hours?” she wrote, adding that, in less than three years, nearly 300 experienced nurses had left their jobs at the hospital.
In a statement issued Monday, Gonzales asked both parties to work to resolve their differences. “It is my hope that this open dialogue seeks a fair agreement for all involved and one yielding the highest quality of care for our residents and those across the region who depend on the hospital,” he said.
The union has scheduled a “Santa Fe Demands Safe Staffing” rally 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Center for Progress and Justice on Cerrillos Road.
“We had a lot of long discussion and debate, and the members clearly sent the negotiating committee back to try and get to the table,” Osborn said. “We must have safe staffing language before we will sign a contract.”
She said more than 95 percent of the nurses and about 80 percent of the technical workers voted to reject the contract, despite a promised 1 percent bonus if they signed it.
A third group, the service and maintenance workers, who were affected only by insurance provisions in the contract and the 1 percent signing bonus, did approve those measures, she added.
Hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado said, “We are cautiously optimistic of reaching an agreement and ironing out final details of a contract during two of the negotiation sessions scheduled for this week…
“For Christus St. Vincent, the proposed three-year contract truly represented management’s intention to provide the best salary, benefits and programs for employees, while continually aligning with our workforce to improve the patient experience.
“We are disappointed that the union has chosen to take this negative action and reject a contract that included reasonable staffing and pay incentives,” he concluded in a written statement.
Union members have contended, though, that the contract does nothing to ensure safe staffing levels and puts barriers in the way of workers protesting those levels, including language in the contract that forbids them to publicly release “confidential data” and also not making it clear that they could get staffing data in the first place.