February 19, 2010

Nurses’ union say UCMC has money to spare

Nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) rejected their second contract offer last week, and they argue that cuts at the Medical Center will hurt nursing care.

Eighty-five percent of nurses voted against the contract, according to Jan Rodolfo, an organizer for National Nurses United (NNU). NNU and its local affiliate, the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), represent over 1,000 UCMC nurses involved in the bargaining, who work in in-patient care. The Medical Center employs about 500 other nurses who work mostly in outpatient care and in labs.

The old agreement expired on November 31, but its terms govern the nurses until the hospital and nurses reach a new agreement.

Nurses objected to the contract because cutbacks would hurt the hospital’s ability to keep good nurses, Rodolfo said.

Rodolfo said the contract’s stipulations—a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs and potential shifting work schedules—are not fair given the hospital’s strong financial standing. “The health sector is quite healthy, and the University of Chicago Medical Center is in the black,” she said.

“These two things will make a negative impact on the...nurses’ ability to provide quality for patients,” said Corey Lanham, an NNU spokesman.

While UCMC spokesman John Easton agreed the Medical Center was not in dire financial straits, he said cutbacks are necessary. “Operating revenues have been positive, but it’s important to keep in mind that the endowment for the University and Medical Center has taken a significant hit from where it was two years ago,” Easton said.

The NNU gave a February 9 press conference to support the nurses’ negotiations. Conference organizers emphasized that, with the increases in health care costs and rotating shifts, the Medical Center would not be able to recruit or retain quality nurses.

The INA and the Medical Center reached a tentative agreement earlier this month that fell apart, according to Easton. He said the agreement “will be a likely starting point” for the next round of negotiations, but the NNU disputes that such an agreement ever took place.

The Medical Center, however, is disputing the NNU’s involvement in the negotiations, claiming it only has a bargaining agreement with the INA. “Our nurses are exclusively represented by the INA,” Easton said. “We have to bargaining with them exclusively.”

Rodolfo said the Medical Center have not decided who represents the nurses in negotiations. “The members of the negotiation team of nurses get to make decisions on who gets to sit at the table,” she said.