SANTA FE, N.M. — Union members have offered to forgo some 4 percentage points of a potential three-year, 9 percent pay increase if Christus St. Vincent management promises to staff the hospital at the midpoint of comparable hospitals.
The hospital can use the money saved in pay rates to hire additional nurses and techs, said Fonda Osborn, president of Local 1199 NM of the National Hospital and Health Care Employees.
She said the union presented the proposal to management Wednesday morning, adding that the two sides have not negotiated since workers overwhelmingly voted down the hospital’s second “last, best” offer on Sunday.
“We hope we can sit down at the table and bargain until we get this done,” she added. “We are very close.”
The hospital’s bargaining team is evaluating the union’s proposal, according to hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado.
“We remain committed to bargaining in good faith,” he said in an emailed statement. “At this time, however, we don’t believe there is a need to return to the table to accomplish that goal given the nature of the proposal and the thorough bargaining history to date.”
Workers will remain on the job when the contract expires at the end of Thursday, Osborn said. Any kind of job actions, such as picketing or a limited strike, require a 10-day notice and none has been issued, she said.
That doesn’t limit any actions, such as picketing, by non-employees, though, the union members pointed out.
“We have developed a smorgasbord of activities,” said Stewart Acuff, a national organizing director for the union. “It will not be a one-shot deal.”
Previously, the union had asked for guaranteed staffing at the 40th percentile of comparable hospitals, which the hospital agreed to aim for but rejected enforcement options to ensure that staffing level. Since then, because of feedback from the membership, the union upped it to staffing at the 50th percentile, but offered the pay concession.
The pay it gave up, though, was the offer of bonuses tied to meeting certain goals, such as improving patient satisfaction levels. In the past, union leaders scoffed at how real those bonuses would turn out to be. However, they pointed out Wednesday, it did represent money that management apparently felt it had available to spend.
Sharon Argenbright, nurse and hospital vice president for the union, said management has told her that the hospital has lost some $500,000 and stands to lose up to $1 million this year in federal funding because of low patient satisfaction reports.
If staffing levels improve, so will patient satisfaction, she said, adding that the hospital also is losing money with staff turnover and the need to hire and train new employees. More than 50 nurses already have left the hospital this year, she said.
The contract covers some 400 nurses and 100 technicians at the hospital. Back in June, about 50 percent of the workers actually were union members, but that percentage has risen to about 70 percent since then, Osborn said.
Acuff said the union has gained 40 to 50 new members just since last Friday.