Top union delegates say they've negotiated a contract with Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center management that they will recommend for approval by members of District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.

A hospital spokesman says that management hopes union members will vote to approve the contract this Saturday. "After months of hard work and bargaining in good faith," writes hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado, "we are delighted that NM1199 has indicated to us that it would favorably recommend the latest version of the contract to its members."

The union, which represents the hospital's nurses and technical workers, has been picketing the hospital for two months after talks between the two sides dissolved due to disagreements over staffing levels at Northern New Mexico's largest hospital. Nurses said that staffing levels below industry averages strained caregivers and risked patient safety while the hospital disagreed.

Calling the new contract an "important step forward," District 1199 New Mexico President Fonda Osborn says in a statement that the "staffing language that we were able to negotiate is not exactly what we expected when we went into negotiations, we feel that it will give us a foundation that will stabilize staffing on each unit and give us what we need to enforce it."

District 1199 New Mexico President Fonda OsbornJustin HorwathOne of the central issues of the tension between the two parties was whether to etch provisions in the new contract that would give the union the ability to enforce any agreed-upon staffing levels through an independent party. The union contended the hospital violated the staffing provisions of its previous three-year contract, which expired in July. The hospital replied that it didn't want third-party review of what should be internal management decisions over staffing.
District 1199 New Mexico President Fonda OsbornJustin HorwathOne of the central issues of the tension between the two parties was whether to etch provisions in the new contract that would give the union the ability to enforce any agreed-upon staffing levels through an independent party. The union contended the hospital violated the staffing provisions of its previous three-year contract, which expired in July. The hospital replied that it didn't want third-party review of what should be internal management decisions over staffing.

Osborn writes that the hospital "has agreed to look at staffing on a shift by shift basis and we have negotiated a penalty if the hospital is unable to schedule enough staff to cover the average daily census needs."

Earlier in the talks, union members also expressed frustration that Mayor Javier Gonzales didn't support their stance to the extent that his predecessor David Coss supported the union during the last round of bargaining in 2011. The union didn't endorse any candidates in the last mayoral election.

But in her statement issued last night, Osborn thanked Gonzales for bringing the "parties back to the table and standing for his community and its health care employees."

"It has been quite a struggle but we believe that our efforts to inform the community with our informational pickets and communicating with our elected officials and working together with several community groups we have moved the mountain," reads her statement issued late Wednesday night.