PLATTSBURGH — Raises and guaranteed staffing levels were issues raised by the New York State Nurses Association as members picketed outside CVPH Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.
“The employees are not feeling very valued right now,” union representative Sandra Guynup said.
The union’s contract with CVPH expired on Dec. 31, 2012; its 800 registered nurses and 250 dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners and varied other hospital employees are working under the provisions of that agreement.
Guynup, who also represents Alice Hyde Medical Center, Adirondack Medical Center and Canton-Potsdam Hospital, said CVPH’s wages are not competitive.
“They (CVPH) always tout themselves as the big medical center. So if you’re the big medical center, it would seem to me that you should be competitive with the other hospitals, which are much smaller,” she said.
“We went back to the negotiating table on May 22,” CVPH Vice President of Human Resources Michelle LeBeau said in a separate interview. With the aid of a mediator, “we ended the conversation by providing two supposals.”
“One would freeze step (increases) for a year, May 31, 2013, to June 1, 2014,” she said.
And all union members would receive a 1.5 percent raise on July 1.
Then, LeBeau continued, 1.5 percent raises would follow, across the board, on Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2015, “with steps no longer frozen.”
The second “supposal” — not an actual proposal but a suggestion for the union to consider — involved no step-increase freeze “but no monetary increases outside of steps” this year, 2014 and 2015, she said.
The union, LeBeau said, wants a minimum of 9 percent in raises plus step increases over the next three years.
“We still have some distance between us,” she said.
A hospital employee receives a minimum 1.5 percent raise per year for step increases, LeBeau said.
At the demonstration, Karen Prevo, a registered nurse for 21 years, said they should be entitled to those increases in pay because they earn them.
Each year on the job represents another year of experience, she said.
“You can’t run a hospital on fresh nurses. You need experience.”
’SLAP IN OUR FACE’
Some nurses have left hospital employ, said Tracey Garvey, vice chair of bargaining for the Nurses Association and a registered nurse at CVPH, who picketed Wednesday.
“This is a community hospital, and the community pays every person’s paycheck at that hospital, so if you’re not going to take care of your community, and most of the nurses that work here are from this area, then they’re going to lose those nurses,” she said.
“It’s not the only game in town anymore,” she said of CVPH. “It’s kind of like we’re disposable. They think we can be replaced very easily.
“They need to show they value their employees, and, right now, this is a slap in our face.”
LeBeau said she reviews the exit data when staff leaves, and she has seen nothing to indicate nurses have departed due to the discord over the contract.
“I don’t have difficulty recruiting nurses in the area,” she added. “We’ve had great luck recruiting externally.
“Our wages are highly competitive at a regional and national level.”
“Even if they can recruit them, they can’t keep them,” Garvey said in a separate interview. “We get all the new nurses, we train them, and they leave because there’s nothing to keep them here.”
Also at issue are staffing levels, the union says.
But LeBeau said that topic was not raised in the recent negotiations at all.
“It was primarily around wages.”
Last fall, CVPH reconfigured patient-to-nurse and clinical-assistant-to-nurse ratios on some floors of the hospital, a move aimed at helping to make up for a $400,000 revenue shortfall.
“The more patients an RN has, it increases the mortality rate, it increases the complications that the patients incur, it makes them stay in the hospital longer,” Guynup said.
Staffing levels have already decreased on floor R3, Garvey said.
“They have gone up on the nurse-patient ratios on that floor from three-to-one to a four-to-one.”
LeBeau said that, as with any hospital, “patient safety is the utmost priority” at CVPH.
NURSES ‘REALLY CARE’
Julie Whitesell, a registered nurse at CVPH since 2001, said she feels underappreciated by her employer.
“We really care about our patients,” she said. “Our contract does not reflect the level of care we provide.”
Whitesell said that picketing because of what she termed unfair contract negotiations has become a trend at CVPH.
“We have to beg for what we get.”
If things get bad enough, she said, she will seek employment elsewhere.
“We have lost some very highly trained critical-care nurses.”
Doris Hanson has been a registered nurse at CVPH for 17 years.
“A lot of people are afraid to come out here (and picket),” she said. “They’re afraid they’re going to get fired.”
“We’re out there on the floor taking care of patients,” she said. “I don’t think we’re asking so much.
“(And) it makes it miserable coming to work knowing your fellow workers aren’t happy.”
NO NEGOTIATIONS SET
Guynup said the union and hospital had no new negotiation session on the calendar.
“We’re hoping that this (picket) is going to push them to move off their position,” she said.
“After today, we will reach back out to NYSNA and attempt to schedule a time to meet with them,” LeBeau said.
“I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to figure this out.”
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.