Tonawanda News

February 27, 2013

WALKING THE LINE

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — KENMORE — About 100 nurses reported to Kenmore Mercy Hospital Wednesday morning — not to punch in for their jobs — but to stand outside, chant and protest Catholic Health's proposed contract. 

Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO Local 1133, which represents 270 nurses at the hospital, began negotiations with administrators on the contract in November, and a tentative contract was reached at the end of January. 

But 87 percent of all the nurses voted on the contract Feb. 11, and 94 percent turned it down. Deborah Arnet, a nurse at the hospital, said the contract is not being recommended to CWA members. 

"There is a loss of incentives to stay beyond the shift, or to come in on a day off to help out," Arnet said. "There is no progressive wage step, which results in the loss of $20,000 over the life of a contract."

Lori Meder, a nurse who has been at Kenmore Mercy for 7 1/2 years, echoed Arnet's comments. 

"As it stands, they are getting rid of all those things ... so what are they going to take away next?" said Meder, whose husband has been a nurse at the hospital for 15 years. 

And Vanessa Quinn, an executive board member of the CWA representing the hospital, said the nurses' pension is the worst in the Catholic Health system. 

The nurses, and their families, said the problems aren't just about the money, but come down to the hospital's priorities. 

"Our main beef is that we are worried about chronic short staffing ... with these terms, we won't be able to keep nurses, and patient care will suffer," Arnet said. "If they were running into financial trouble, we'd understand, but they're not. They're building a brand new, multi-million dollar building."

But a statement from the hospital says the changes in the contract are in fact a result of increases in health care costs. 

“The health care landscape is very different today than it was during previous contract negotiations, and the future will bring even more financial challenges,” Chuck Hayes, a spokesperson for the hospital, said. “While it is sometime difficult to accept, we have to take all these factors into consideration to ensure our long term viability and avoid the reductions other institutions have had to make over the past several years.”

According to a prepared statement from the hospital, the contract includes wage increases totaling 10 percent over the four years, no changes to pension benefits and a "high quality health plan." 

“This is essentially the same contract that was accepted by our registered nurses at Mercy Hospital and Sisters Hospital St. Joseph Campus,” Hayes said. “Its provisions reflect the changes we are seeing in our hospitals as a result of health reform and the escalating financial pressures being placed all healthcare providers from the state and federal government to operate more efficiently.”

The union and hospital administrators are scheduled to meet today to discuss the contract.

"We'll see if they offer anything different," Arnet said. 

But according to the hospital's statement, the current proposal is the hospital's best offer. 

“We are certainly willing to meet with the union to discuss the merits of the contract and remain open to scheduling a revote," Hayes said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150