Assembly backs board on hospital contract

Employees say new contract could cause some workers to leave Bartlett

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2005

The Juneau Assembly has sided with Bartlett Regional Hospital's board in settling a contract impasse with employees.

At an executive session Wednesday evening, the Assembly accepted the hospital board's final offer, which had been rejected by 98 percent of union members in April. The old contract expired Jan. 1.

The Assembly first heard the case Monday. Its decision is final, City Attorney John Hartle said.

Assembly member Jeff Bush said the hospital's final offer is reasonable.

Union representatives and members said they are disappointed with the ruling.

"The city can certainly expect a very negative reaction from the employees," said union representative John Bukoskey. "Some of the employees might go someplace else that will treat them better."

Since September, union representatives and hospital managers had been negotiating to renew a contract that covers 240 hospital employees, including janitors, nurses and lab technicians. The contract eventually will affect all 460 employees, as the hospital extends the same terms to nonunion employees.

Union representatives and many of the employees said they don't like the three-tiered health system proposed by the board. They said some of them would have to pay more to keep the same benefits.

But hospital managers said the new system, which has been applied to all the other city employees, provides more options from which the employees can choose.

In the board's best and final offer, the hospital's maximum contribution for health insurance is capped at $942 per month per full-time employee in the first year. In the final two years of the contract, the hospital would split the cost of any premium increase with the employees for the first 15 percent and absorb the rest. The employees would get a 1 percent wage increase for the first year and 1.1 percent for the following two years.

Union leaders demanded a percent wage increase for three years. They wanted the hospital to pick up 80 percent of the premium cost increase for the first 15 percent. Negotiations broke in April.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said the hospital's offer is fair because it tries to absorb as much cost as it can. He doesn't think employees will leave Juneau because of the new contract, as the union leaders had suggested.

"Many of us could have enjoyed high salaries somewhere else. We stay because we enjoy the lifestyle here," Wanamaker said.

The employee morale at Bartlett Regional Hospital was low though.

Carolyn Noe, who has worked at the patient finance service and billing unit since 1991, said she is angry at the Assembly's decision.

"We didn't get a chance to say how we felt," Noe said. When the Assembly acts as a quasi-judicial body, the hearing procedures allow only the legal counsels to speak.

The new contract will expire Dec. 31, 2007. The hospital expects to negotiate with the unions again in fall 2007, said Mark Beattie, Bartlett's human resources director.

• I-Chun Che can be reached

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