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Cooling Contract Tension

July 30, 2014, 12:00 am

The last round of labor negotiations between Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center management and the union that represents hospital caregivers failed to abate tension between the two parties.

Although nurses withdrew a strike notice that would have gone into effect this week, antagonism remains apparent in ongoing talks to hammer out a new three-year contract to cover some 400 nurses as well as technical workers. The current labor contract expires Thursday, July 31.

Leaders from District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees say they are asking management to plan for more nurses per patient in hospital units while management maintains it has seen improved outcomes with current staffing levels—which are lower than 60 percent of similarly sized peer institutions.

Following the 2011 labor agreement, the hospital and union battled internally over the staffing levels, with the union alleging management failed to follow recommendations of a 10-members staffing committee established by the last contract. During the current talks, they’ve been exchanging contract proposals about mechanisms used to enforce staffing language in the new contract.

Management proposed language that would prevent the union from bringing complaints about staffing levels to the National Labor Relations Board and “any state or federal court.” The union wants an independent arbitrator to rule on disputes about staffing in an expatiated manner.

Whatever the agreement, without clear contract language about staffing levels and consensus about how to enforce that language, the two sides may find themselves in the same spot during 2016 negotiations: Trying to prevent a strike at Santa Fe’s largest hospital.


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