We are not seeking any big financial advantage in our contract negotiations. Over the last decade, NYSNA has worked with the hospital to bring nursing salaries into line with statewide standards for small rural hospitals, making it possible for us to attract and keep a skilled professional staff. For many years, contract negotiations followed a standard procedure. First, we would agree to extend the current contract until a new agreement could be reached. Secondly, we would ask for a raise, and the hospital would offer a lower amount, and within one or two sessions we would come to a compromise that left everyone satisfied. Now that salaries are reasonable by small hospital standards, we do not expect big raises.
However, this contract negotiation has been far less friendly and casual. Hospital representatives started with refusing to extend the contract during negotiations unless we agreed with some of their proposals at the outset. Then we were presented with a long document detailing how the hospital wanted to change many standard provisions of our contract. Most of these changes were to give the hospital more control over firings and discipline, and to change agreements that have been in place for decades. They have proposed doing away with the step program, standard at most hospitals, that pays nurses more based on years of experience. This is a standard because it encourages retention of experienced nurses. The hospital representative actually stated that they do not see a problem with being staffed by new nurses. While we agree that new nurses are the future of our profession, each of us needed an experienced mentor when we were fresh out of school to learn how to provide safe, quality nursing care.
We are still willing to consider the pay freeze and some of the benefit cuts that the hospital proposed if they would agree to a two-year contract and remove all their proposed changes to the contract that we have not yet agreed to. We might even specify that the contact talks at the end of two years would be limited to pay and benefits, to avoid another long series of negotiations. To date, management has refused to consider this and continues to dismiss the suggestions of the nurses who have lived and worked in the community for decades.
Carol McKeever, Putnam