Tonawanda News

May 1, 2013

KMH nurses ratify contract

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Kenmore Mercy nurses ratified a four-year contract with the hospital Monday ending months of disagreement between the two sides.

Members of the bargaining unit said that 82 percent of the union nurses turned out Monday to vote, and 72 percent of those nurses voted for the contract. 

“We still had good representation, but had a little less than last time,” Deborah Arnet, a nurse and union representative said. “We can’t say we are completely happy ... we didn’t get everything we wanted, but it was a compromise.” 

Nurses have been working without a contract since January, when the first tentative agreement was reached. But the union didn’t recommend members ratify the agreement and nurses turned down the contract twice, according to the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO Local 1133, which represents 270 nurses at the hospital.

Union officials said the original agreement eliminated overtime incentives, a progressive wage step and a health insurance option. In turn, the hospital argued that the cuts were a result of “changes in the health care landscape” and were necessary in light of economic realties.

After the second failed vote, administrators and union officials met with a federal mediator once, and after that meeting, the two parties came up with the new tentative agreement that was ratified Monday. 

Under the new contract, the hospital will reinstate a 2.5 percent raise for the next four years, but that wage step is no longer progressive — unlike terms in the last contract, which included a 4 percent raise.

Supplemental pay for extra hours will also be offered until September. After that a $9 per hour rate on top of the nurse’s base wage will be offered for an emergency fill-in with shifts offered at the hospital’s discretion.

“There is also a reinstatement of emergency paid time off day with some caveats on how it can be used,” Arnet said.

Arnet said the hospital agreed to compromise after the union received the approval to strike. 

“We only met with the mediator once and did not fully utilize his services,” she said. “The real change is after we got the strike date, after that, they were willing to budge. It was a motivating factor.” 

Both parties are pleased a strike was avoided, but characterized the process as long and stressful.  

“This has been a long process, but through it all we worked with the union to communicate the merits of the contract and are pleased that our nurses accepted the agreement,” James Millard, Kenmore Mercy Hospital president and CEO said. “This is good news for our patients and the community we serve.”

The contract will be in effect through January 2017. 

“I told the nurses that in four years, we better be prepared to buckle down. We can’t take a concessionary contract twice in a row,” Arnet said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley