NEW YORK NURSE: January/February 2009
by Mark Genovese
Registered nurses employed by Erie County were committed to holding out for a fair contract.
Through a four-year battle that had as many twists and turns as the Buffalo River, bargaining unit members held together. Finally, on Dec. 23, 2008, they approved a new six-year contract that improves the county’s ability to recruit registered nurses.
“We are so grateful to the hard-working and dedicated nurses who remained with ECMC, the County Home, and the Health Department during this difficult and protracted negotiation process,” said Dennis Lindell, NYSNA co-chair at ECMC. “They were responsible for maintaining and improving the quality of care throughout and will continue to do so in the years to come. Hopefully, this contract will not only help to retain these quality nurses, but attract the best of the new RNs who will continue this tradition.”
The last contract for the 1,000 RNs at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), the County Home, and the Health Department expired in 2004. The complications in negotiating a new agreement were numerous:
Negotiations became a battle for the viability of the medical center as a provider of quality care. The vacancy rate for county nurse positions jumped from 7% to 13%. Without a raise for almost six years, and facing a threat of losing benefits, many nurses left because they needed to support their families.
But financial pressures on both sides prompted a settlement just before the holidays. The county legislature approved the contract in early January; the control board was reviewing it as this edition went to press.
RNs will receive retroactive lump-sum payments of $2,000 for both 2006 and 2007. Wages will increase by 12% retroactive to July 2008, then 4% each year from 2009 to 2011 for RNs at the medical center, and 10% retroactive to July 2008, then by 3% each year for RNs at the health department. Rates for per diems were also increased by 25%.
Although all RNs will now contribute 15% toward monthly health insurance premiums, RNs hired before Jan. 1, 2009, will receive a stipend to cover the cost for the year. RNs eligible to retire on or before Dec. 31, 2013, will continue to have their retiree health insurance paid in full by the employer.