By JEFF MEYERS
PLATTSBURGH -- Both sides caught in a contract dispute at CVPH Medical Center moved a bit closer to an agreement, but significant differences still need to be ironed out.
Negotiations between management and the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 600 nurses and other health-care professionals at the hospital, stalled in late May after the hospital put what it said was a final offer on the table.
The union did not accept the offer and instead scheduled an informational picket for Wednesday afternoon to bring concerns to the community.
Heated debate has surrounded the hospital's proposed pension plan. Both sides have now agreed to move away from the traditional employer-supported pension to a defined-contribution plan, in which both employer and employee contribute to the employee's retirement package.
"We are willing to discuss this change, but it's just a matter of how much the deduction is," said Janet Strominger, labor-relations representative for the Nurses Association.
"The proposal doesn't even come close to what the employees would have gotten under the old plan. Our membership just isn't ready to accept that."
CVPH is proposing a 3-percent base contribution for all employees, regardless of whether the workers contribute in the plan or not.
Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone has no base contribution, and Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake/Lake Placid offers a 1-percent base contribution.
CVPH is also offering a 2-percent hospital match, compared to a 3-percent match at Alice Hyde and AMC, with a CVPH employee contribution of 6 percent.
"If you look at the base contribution and the match contribution, it far exceeds anybody in the area," Mundy said. "And if you look at the plan after 20 years, the savings are even greater."
At year 20, the CVPH base contribution rises to 3.5 percent while the hospital match rises to 6 percent from the original 2 percent.
"It's a fair and just plan," Mundy said.
Strominger believes those figures could be even better for the hospital's professional staff.
"They've acknowledged that they are going to save money with this new plan," she said of CVPH management. "We feel they can put more of those savings back into the defined contribution plan."
Mundy said the hospital has put savings from the proposal back into the retirement plan and added that there is little room, beyond minor "tweaking," that the hospital can do with the contract.
"What we have brought to the table is basically what we have to offer," he said. "To go any higher would be irresponsible to the community and to the Medical Center."
Another major concern deals with the proposed salary increase.
"One of the issues still outstanding is the wages the hospital has offered," said Nurses Association representative Sandra Guynup. "Their offer is still 2.5 percent behind Alice Hyde for first-year nurses."
The proposed CVPH contract offers a base hourly rate for registered nurses at $23.01, a 3-percent increase, while the base rate at Alice Hyde is $23.58.
In comparison, Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake offers $22.86, and Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, which is of comparable size to CVPH, pays $21.41.
"We've had nurses who have left here to go to Alice Hyde," Guynup said. "There is one nurse who is now making $5 more an hour with the same experience. Other nurses are going to Fletcher Allen (in Burlington) or are becoming traveling nurses. We need to have a salary that is more competitive."
Management feels the proposed contract does offer a competitive salary, however.
"You have to look at the contract as a package," said CVPH President Stephens Mundy. "We believe we are offering a far superior package. There are great people here, and they do great work. We think we've got a great package for them."
For instance, when computing shift differentials for working evenings, nights or weekends, the base salary increases anywhere from $2 to $3.25 per hour at CVPH, whereas Alice Hyde nurses receive an additional $1.80 for evenings and nights and $1 for weekend work, Mundy noted.
That means a new nurse at CVPH can make up to $26.01 per hour, while differentials at Alice Hyde will increase the hourly wage to no more than $25.38.
TALKS TO RESUME
Both sides will return to the table in a few days to see if any changes can be made to bring the staff and management to an agreement.
"They did make improvements to the original offer, but there's just not enough," Guynup said. "This proposal is not going to cut it."
Several dozen health-care providers stood along Cornelia Street wearing bright red T-shirts with the slogan "Whatever it takes for as long as it takes" augmenting their message. Many motorists honked in support as they drove by.