Friday, January 29, 2016

What's Happening at the Hospital

The United Healthcare Workers East1199 SEIUand Columbia Memorial Hospital are in the process of negotiating a new four-year contract. Being advised that the negotiations were open to the public, Gossips headed up the the American Legion Hall (where the negotiations are taking place) on Thursday afternoon to observe the proceedings.

In the two hours I was there, I was fortunate to witness a significant moment in the negotiations, when Ray Jones, former vice president for human resources at CMH, who retired to North Carolina recently but returned for these negotiations, stated: "We don't want any of our employees to suffer in terms of the pension plan and its going into default." Up until that moment, it seems CMH employees had reason to be worried about their pensions. This statement was also was the first indication of progress in the negotiations.

The workers are concerned about wages and health insurance (one member of the negotiating committee attested that he had to work 20 hours to make his monthly contribution to health insurance), but there are two other issues, spoken of as "conceptual issues" and both relating to job security, that are of particular concern to union members: subcontracting and successorship. The union has proposed two articles to be included in the new contract intended to protect jobs in the event that services now provided by the hospital are subcontracted to another entity or in the event that the hospital is sold. So far both articles have been rejected. 

CMH recently entered into an affiliation with Albany Medical Center which allows CMH to "maintain its own employees, continue to determine its own salary and benefit structure, maintain its own employment policies, and negotiate and continue to maintain its own union contracts." Hospital workers, however, are concerned about the possibility that the hospital may be sold. On Thursday, Jones stated before the 100 or so union members gathered at the American Legion: "The employer is confident that the hospital will never be sold." On the one hand, if the hospital will never be sold, an article addressing successorship is unnecessary; on other hand, if the hospital will never be sold, there should be no reason to object to including an article addressing successorship in the contract.

When Gossips left the proceedings on Thursday evening, both sides were acknowledging finally being "in the same ocean," perhaps even in the same Great Lake, in their negotiations. The negotiations resume on February 24. The current contract has been extended through the end of February. 

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