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August 5, 2009

Union Rejects New Contract with Hospital

A union representing 1,400 maintenance, clerical and service staff at the University of Chicago Medical Center all but unanimously rejected a new contract last week. The union recommended its members reject the contract, citing higher health insurance costs and the hospital's use of non-union workers.

The union, Teamsters Local 743, said one of its main concern was the hospital’s recent history with subcontracting out work to nonunion members.

“We feel that our members are professionals, they know the system, they know the hospital and in many cases they know the patients…there’s no reason for them to subcontract out the work,” union spokesman J Burger said.

744 of 795 voting members rejected the contract, Burger said, calling it “the largest vote turn-out in a number of years.” Local 743 has 1,400 members and serves other campus workers as well, including dining workers.

The hospital released a statement expressing regret that the union rejected the three-year contract. "We know it is a very fair offer, especially in light of the current economic downturn and the resulting impact on the Medical Center,” the press release said.

The statement also indicated that the hospital offered pay increases to the staff for 2009, ’10 and ’11, adding that other healthcare institutions have been “seeking concessions and salary reductions from their union members.”

Burger said the use of contract workers was a sticking point because the hospital offers severance pay to these nonunion workers, but not to 743 members. He also said the 10 percent increase on healthcare costs and raise guidelines contributed to the union leadership's recommendation.

“They keep using the economy, the economy the economy,” Burger said, “but they have yet to prove to us that their bottom line has been impacted by the general economy. We know it’s bad, but we have yet to see the evidence that their operating income has been severely impacted by the economic downturn.”

The Medical Center cut its budget by $100 million last year and fired 450 employees, citing decreased revenues due to the failing economy.

“In addition to the lost revenue due to the recession, there’s the obligation to restore the endowment, there are things like pensions and malpractices," said Medical Center spokesman John Easton. "There are a number of obligations that the Medical Center faces that not all people are aware of or are giving sufficient weight to.”

Burger said the union plans on returning to the bargaining table to work on another contract.