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Hundreds of nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center began a 48-hour strike July 12 after a last-ditch bargaining session failed to resolve contract negotiation disputes.
The facility, known as UVMMC, employs more than 1,800 nurses, according to the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. The union represents some of the workers at the Burlington, Vt., facility.
The strike comes in the wake of the June 27 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME that blocks public unions from requiring nonmembers to pay fees that support collective bargaining.
The nurses aren’t public employees, but they are feeling pressure because of Janus, Deb Snell, vice president of the VFNHP, told Bloomberg Law. The concern is that the stakes are higher as other workers face the prospect of diluted bargaining power after Janus.
The nurses’ union is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. AFT President Randi Weingarten said public- and private-sector unions still have power, and this strike shows Janus will not “defund unions and undermine the aspirations of working people.”
“The Vermont nurses and healthcare professionals are just the latest in a long line of people who have told me that they are more committed than ever to their union, and all the ways it helps them achieve a better life,” Weingarten wrote in a statement to Bloomberg Law.
Wage increases are the central roadblock in the talks, Snell said. The union is seeking a 22 percent wage increase over the term of a three-year contract. It is requesting an 8 percent raise the first year with a 4 percent raise each of the following two years, in addition to a 6 percent increase in salary step levels.
The hospital offered a 14 percent raise over three years “plus increases beyond that depending on what kind of nursing they do,” according to a statement on the UVMMC website. “In the end, the organization could not responsibly meet the union’s wage demands and also meet all of the other responsibilities we have to our patients and families, our employees, and the communities we serve.”
Medical Center representatives declined to comment beyond statements released on the hospital’s website.
Over the past year, low wages produced a nursing shortage that left an average of 150 nursing positions unfilled at the facility, which houses the state’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, Snell told Bloomberg Law.
Nurses are signing up for jobs, collecting a signing bonus, and leaving after a year because of the low salary, she said.
The overall turnover rate and the number of job openings for nurses who care for patients admitted to the hospital are in line with those of similar organizations, the hospital says on its website. The vacancy rate for nurses who work in outpatient services is higher than at other institutions, and the UVMMC has proposed raising the salaries of those nurses to match what inpatient nurses earn, it said.
The hospital and union are working with a federal mediator to resolve the contract dispute. “This time we are just so far apart, it’s hard to find common ground,” Snell said.
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