Hospital pact negotiations at an impasse

Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Employee contract negotiations at Bartlett Regional Hospital have reached an impasse.

The tension showed at a board meeting Tuesday when some employees returned coupons given them by management for items such as water bottles and T-shirts. The coupons were intended to show management's appreciation for staff.

Since September, union leaders representing 240 Bartlett employees had been negotiating with the hospital for a new contract. Last Thursday, 98 percent of union members - among them janitors, nurses and technicians - refused to accept the contract proposed by the hospital management. The old contract expired in January.

The Juneau Assembly will hold a public hearing, yet to be scheduled, before making a final decision.

The proposed contract calls for a slight wage increase over the next three years - 1 percent in the first year and 1.1 percent in the second and third years. But the wage increase would not be enough to cover the health plan increases in employees premiums. Some employees' health insurance would increase by 125 percent.

"This is unacceptable," said John Bukoskey, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 200. He said employees either get reduced benefits or pay more to keep the same health benefits.

Board members said they were accepting comments Tuesday and would not immediately respond.

Hospital managers said the new contract would allow some employees to pay less for their health insurance. A single person who now pays $65 a month for premium health coverage would pay only $10 under the proposed three-tier system. Employees with families could choose an economy plan, which provides limited coverage but is at no cost to the employees.

But some employees with families, who currently pay $65 a month for premium health coverage, would have to pay $150 a month to keep the same benefits.

"Up until two years ago, health insurance was at no cost to the hospital employees," said Mark Beattie, human resource systems administrator at Bartlett. "The hospital was unable to shoulder the increase anymore."

Beattie said union members need to understand that the hospital has no control over health insurance rates.

The negotiation deadlock has lowered morale.

"It definitely affects your psyche," said Alfred Votion, a housekeeping staff member at Bartlett for three years.

At the hospital's regular board meeting Tuesday, Judy Brown, a nurse at the operating room unit at Bartlett, returned some coupons the hospital gave to the employees last week.

To show appreciation for employees, hospital managers gave them several coupons, which include a $6 meal ticket at the hospital cafeteria and a coupon for a T-shirt and a water bottle, during the past week. Employees said thanks but no thanks.

"This was a friendly gesture to send as union employees were preparing to vote on the proposed contract but they don't meet the needs of the employees," Brown said.

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