NEW YORK NURSE: June/July 2012
by Mark Genovese
In a significant settlement negotiated by NYSNA, 143 employees of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Center (CVPH) will share a total of $242,396 in back payments to their retirement savings plan.
NYSNA had charged hospital officials with making numerous errors between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2010, in calculating the eligibility dates and level of matching funds for employees covered by its four-year-old 403(b) plan.
This win comes after countless hours of reviewing the pay records of documents of all NYSNA members at the Plattsburgh hospital and after several more months persistently championing the case, the grievance, arbitration, and legal processes.
NYSNA represents 800 registered nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, social workers, technicians, and therapists at CVPH. During contract talks in 2008, the bargaining unit negotiating committee agreed to convert the professional staff’s retirement savings plan from a traditional defined-benefit pension to a defined-contribution 403(b) plan with an employer match.
“As part of the transition, we insisted on adding protections so that the members wouldn’t suffer financially,” said Sandra Guynup, NYSNA nursing representative. “We won a provision that would consider employees who worked 1,000 hours per year for three years to be vested. After vesting, they would no longer need to work a full 1,000 hours in a year to maintain their status.” Employees were placed on three different levels – those with more hours qualified for a higher percentage of employee matching.
But hospital management misinterpreted the provisions of this agreement. “Not everyone was placed properly and not everyone received the proper credit,” Guynup said. “Some were told they needed to work 1,000 hours when they didn’t need to. Dates on which some were to have moved up to the next level were wrong, costing some several months of credit.”
The first indication came in early 2008, when one employee asked for Guynup’s help because she suspected she was owed funds because she should have advanced sooner. “Human resources staff claimed the calculations were correct,” Guynup said. “But I checked and found out that the employee was indeed owed money.” Then a second member came to Guynup noting that her date of advancement was also incorrect.
So Guynup investigated further. After finding the problem was widespread, she filed a grievance. The hospital still insisted its figures were correct, so she took the matter to arbitration, which NYSNA won in November 2010. This award was confirmed by the New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 17, 2012.
But the case still wasn’t settled. Next came the lengthy task of auditing the hospital’s records to find out which members were affected between 2008 and 2011 and how much they were owed. “We had to go member-by-member, pay period-by-pay period,” Guynup said. “This took more than a year on its own.”
Research determined that 143 employees were owed money, ranging from a few dollars to more than $7,000. The parties also set an interest rate over the three-year period of 3.25%. The total came to an astonishing $242,396.86.
All of the employees who were affected have received the funds they were owed and have been placed at the correct level retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011. Parties agreed that employees could either take the full payment in cash, have it deposited directly into their accounts, or a combination of both. It was also determined that 17 other bargaining unit members received excess contributions to their 403(b) accounts totaling $14,527.69. “The hospital tried to go after the employees to recover the money,” Guynup said. “But we stopped them.”
“I’ve learned to check on my benefits periodically, to insure the employer is providing what it is supposed to,” said one member who received funds. “I’m glad I did, as it was at this point I realized my employer was not providing the benefit as stated in the contract. I was frustrated and angry, but felt relieved when not only I – but the other affected employees – eventually got what was promised.”
“The ironic part is that none of this would have happened if these two employees hadn’t questioned their account statements and come to me,” Guynup said. “The lesson is: Don’t always assume human resources is always correct; never take it for granted.”