Op-Ed: From UVM: Update on contract negotiations with nurses union — Eileen Whalen

The University of Vermont Medical Center is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract with the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the union representing our 1,825 nurses.

Since the union was formed in 2002, we have been able to reach agreement each time by coming together based on mutual respect for one another and a commitment to our patients and their families.

You may have heard that our nurses’ union recently voted to authorize a strike, which they may or may not act upon. I continue to believe a strike is not necessary. We have several bargaining sessions scheduled before the contract expires on July 9. To me, the most appropriate next step is to remain at the bargaining table.

We started these negotiations by identifying key areas we wanted to address in order to build on our efforts to enhance the care we provide to our patients and families. In fact, many of these issues are ones we’ve been working on diligently and will continue to address for years to come.

Across the nation, hospitals struggle to fill nursing vacancies. While our vacancy and turnover rates are on par with similarly sized health care organizations, we must continue to find new and innovative ways to attract and retain skilled nurses and staff at all levels.

We’ve created 120 new patient care positions since October 2016, hiring a total of 754 nurses and staff since then to address this challenge.

As part of these negotiations, we’ve proposed a new and more inclusive way to evaluate and make recommendations on staffing plans on an ongoing basis – the creation of staffing collaboratives that will engage those closest to patient care, including nurses.

With regard to wages, the union is proposing a 28.5 percent wage increase over three years. Our most recent proposal includes a 7 percent wage increase over three years, with additional increases up to 11 percent for some positions.

We propose to raise the salaries of ambulatory (outpatient) nurses to the same level of inpatient nurses, which could increase their pay an additional 10 to 13 percent. We believe this is the right thing to do to create greater pay equity among our nurses. We also propose significant changes to compensation for advance practice registered nurses (also known as APRNs or nurse practitioners), which will result in increases ranging from 10 to 18 percent.

We have work to do to iron out our differences. In the event the union does go out on strike, we will be ready. Our commitment is to take the steps necessary to ensure our patients continue to receive the highest level of care no matter what. If there is a strike, we will welcome our nurses who do not wish to strike to come to work.

As a nurse myself, I know how hard our providers work and how essential their role is in delivering the care our patients and families deserve. I care deeply about reaching agreement with our nurses’ union and am working closely with our negotiating team toward that end. I am grateful for the continued support of the community, the character and spirit of every member of the team, and the confidence our patients place in us.

We will not let you down.

Eileen Whalen, RN, MHA, is president and chief operating officer of University of Vermont Medical Center

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