Contract Negotiations and More

We're back in Contract Negotiations. The extension we agreed upon earlier this year runs through September 30th. That was awfully quick, wasn't it?

Obviously, there's a lot to say about all of this, and about all of the other goings-on. We're working on a more thorough and thoughtful information letter. And we are planning a series of Information Meetings. In addition to talking about the Contract, we will provide updates about the pension committee, the most recent past layoffs, the sale of the Home Health and Hospice facility and the Labs, the SHARE Signature Poster project, and more.

In the interest of making sure that everyone has some basic information, and knows how to get more, here's the first in a series of blog posts about Contract Negotiations.

SHARE has had two Negotiation Sessions with UMass Memorial management so far. The SHARE negotiation team is made up of the SHARE Officers and Executive Board and the SHARE Organizing Staff. We have been meeting with the hospital's management team, headed by Joe Fournier in Labor Relations, and Walter Hunter, an outside attorney.

In the first negotiating session, both teams introduced themselves. There are some new faces on the management team, and we are still getting to know each other. We got quickly down-to-business, as the management team made clear that they have a strong interest in settling a new contract quickly. Once we come to an agreement on the pension, even though nothing would change for us until 2017, the hospital can start counting savings on their balance sheet. If we settle before the end of this fiscal year, they can count savings in this fiscal year. So the timing matters a lot to them.

The SHARE team made clear that it has a number of important issues that need to be addressed, and spent time outlining these issues. The management team described the hospital's need to cut costs, the SHARE team emphasized that the vast majority of our members tell us that their biggest concerns include wages, benefits--especially health insurance, earned time, and the pension--and job security.

The second negotiation session opened with a presentation from UMMMC's Chief Financial Officer, Therese Day. She described the biggest negative economic impacts on the hospital (declining reimbursement rates, tiering by health insurance providers, declining interest rates, and the rising costs of providing healthcare). The management team asserted that healthcare is changing, and that the kind of change is different than anything we've seen before, in that the change involves a number of external forces over which the hospital has little or no control.

To finish negotiating with the hospital by the end of August, we have to figure out what to do with all the issues. Some of the issues are more time-sensitive, and others will require more time and energy than will be available before the contract deadline. In an effort to deal with this problem, we have begun to negotiate the idea of an ongoing Labor-Management Committee that could oversee jointly-made solutions. Knowing that we have a more reliable structure for dealing with ongoing issues, the negotiating team will be able to focus its attention on the topics that must necessarily be addressed at the negotiating table, including the pension, benefits, raises, and job security.

If the SHARE negotiating team can reach a tentative agreement with the hospital negotiating team by the end of August, then we will get the proposal to SHARE members to read, have another round of information meetings, and hold a vote before the end of September. That is a tight schedule, but it is possible. And both sides are highly motivated.

We'll keep posting updates on the blog, in newsletters, and at the upcoming Information Meetings. More to come . . .