Contract impasse

Enloe nurses stage picket in light of stalled negotiations

About 150 picketers, including nurses, their families and members of the Chico Unified Teachers Association, carried signs of support for the nurses’ efforts to hammer out a new contract with Enloe Medical Center’s management.

About 150 picketers, including nurses, their families and members of the Chico Unified Teachers Association, carried signs of support for the nurses’ efforts to hammer out a new contract with Enloe Medical Center’s management.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Registered nurses at Enloe Medical Center picketed in front of the hospital’s administrative offices on Friday (May 4) to let the public know negotiations on a new labor contract have hit a wall.

David Welch, an RN and spokesman for the 700 nurses, who are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, said the existing contract expired in mid-January.

“We’ve had some short-term extensions,” Welch said, “but on April 19 management wasn’t willing to extend it any further, so now there is no contract.”

A mediator has been appointed at the request of the union and will be at the next round of bargaining May 25.

In a press release announcing the picket, Welch made mention of Enloe’s newly remodeled facility. “We will soon be working in an impressive new building,” he said. “But a building isn’t a hospital. People come to the hospital for the nursing care, not the decor.”

Welch said the two sides have come to terms on a number of issues and are close to settling a few more. The three remaining sticking points are wages, medical coverage for retiring nurses and something called the management-rights clause, which gives administration mandatory power over wages, hours and working conditions.

Welch said the nurses are trying to get yearly wage increases that match the rate of inflation.

Carol Linscheid, Enloe’s vice president of human resources, said management is offering a 2 percent per year raise, plus a 3 percent increase on certain hiring anniversaries. The union is asking for a 3.25 percent yearly increase.

Linscheid defended management’s wage offer. She said the Chico State Center for Economic Development did a survey that shows Enloe’s pay is 9 percent higher than the average nurse wage at hospitals in the North State.

“We do want to stay competitive,” she said.

Welch said the union is also trying to establish health care to cover the time between retirement and when Medicare kicks in at age 65.

“What we do is so physically demanding, and doing it until you’re 65 is hard,” he said. “We are asking them to provide a bridge to Medicare so that a nurse can retire at 62 and not have to wait to the age of 65 to get heath coverage.”

There is an option currently available, Linscheid said, for which the nurses pay full cost.

As for the management-rights clause, Welch said it is much too restrictive as defined in the nurses’ contract.

“The first contract we signed gave management more leeway to make changes unilaterally,” he said. “We’ve tried to change this each time we’ve renegotiated for a new contract.”

He said Enloe’s service employees—nurses’ aides and technicians represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—“have a nice, functional management-rights clause. We want the same language in ours.”

Linscheid said the language in the SEIU contract, which was signed four years ago, is less than adequate when dealing with the management-rights clause.

“The SEIU contract has a very abbreviated version of what is in the CNA contract,” she said. “It’s overly broad, and that leads to some confusion about what was actually meant.”

She said the nurses’ contract, which was first signed in 2002, is much more specific about management rights and thus less ambiguous.

“There are two different versions because there were two different bargaining groups involved, which meant different folks at the table,” she said.

The SEIU contract defines management rights in 87 words: “With the objective of carrying out the Medical Center’s mission, and in the best interest of the community, the parties to the collective bargaining agreement recognize that management retains the right and obligation to manage the hospital efficiently and to direct its employees subject to applicable State, Federal and local laws, as well as the provisions of this collective bargaining agreement, and its own written policies and procedures.”

The CNA contract defining management rights is 398 words. It begins: “Except as otherwise specifically provided in this Agreement, the Employer retains the sole and exclusive right to exercise all the authority, rights and/or functions of management.”

It ends with the following disclaimer: “The Union shall have recourse to the grievance procedures if it believes that any action taken by the Employer pursuant to this Article is in violation of a specific provision of this Agreement.”