Employees at Bartlett Regional Hospital fought for their health care at a hospital board meeting Tuesday evening.
Since September, the hospital and an employee union have been negotiating a contract that will affect 350 employees; about 75 percent of the hospital staff. But the contract eventually could affect every employee because the hospital generally applies provisions of a negotiated contract across the board, said Marck Beattie, human resources system administrator at Bartlett.
The board and the union have less than two weeks to reach an agreement. The current contract expires Dec. 31.
About 50 employees attended the board meeting, many in their scrubs.
Many employees said the dramatic increase of insurance premiums is unacceptable. The proposed contract would raise the employee premium from $65 to $153 a month, about a 135 percent increase, union representative John Bukoskey said.
"You are taking 50 cents an hour from the employees," Bukoskey said to the board. "It will be a shame that a health care institution cannot provide health care to its employees. The potential harm is great."
The low-end wage for hospital workers in the proposed contract is $13.40 an hour, according to negotiators.
Hospital administrators have declined comment about the negotiations.
Lori Higgins, a nurse at Bartlett for four years, said the proposed contract would make recruitment and retention difficult.
"We have heard that nurses in the South make more money and the cost of living is a lot cheaper. People are going to leave," Higgins said.
Higgins said the hospital might lose more money because it needs to hire nurses through temping agencies. These nurses are called travelers.
"The hospital pays travelers up to $65 an hour. The regular nurse makes up to $34 an hour," said Higgins, who started working for Bartlett as a traveler. "If they lose a lot of nurses, they will have to pay more."
One employee said before the board starts taking money out of the employees' pockets, the board should examine the hospital's budget and cut unnecessary expenses.
Another employee suggested the board can start withholding farewell gifts from outgoing board members and stop catering board meetings. The board chairman at Tuesday's meeting presented gifts including a golden bowl to members leaving the board.
Board members didn't speak to the employees' comments and went into a private executive session to discuss the contract. At press time, the board's position remained unknown.
Bukoskey said the union is willing to work with the board to reach a compromise.
I-Chun Che can be reached at email@example.com.