First offer suggests negotiations between union and hospital administration are making progress
Negotiators for the Enloe Medical Center made their initial wage increase proposal to the nurses bargaining team June 27, but it came at the end of the day’s sessions, and the union says it has not had time to study and comment on the offer.
According to an Enloe press release, faxed to this paper on the afternoon of June 27, the offer “covers issues of wages, benefits, education and paid time off.”
Hospital officials, it says, “are confident the package is competitive, continuing the policy of maintaining market competitiveness that has been in place the past years for all employee groups including nurses.”
The contract talks are the result of an acrimonious fight last year by Enloe’s registered nurses to bring in union representation from the California Nurses Association (CNA). The nurses said they did not have a voice in an industry undergoing fundamental changes. The administration said problems stemmed from a nationwide nursing shortage.
The offer calls for a 6 percent wage increase—the press release calls it a market adjustment—but the press release notes that since wages are part of the bargaining process the adjustment would not be realized until contract terms are settled.
“It’s curious,” said Pete D. Castelli, the CNA representative on the nurses’ bargaining team. “They slapped their economic proposals down on the table just before they walked out at the end of the session.”
Still, Castelli said the union sees the offer as a positive sign and is encouraged that talks are now turning to matters of economics.
“We would like to have seen an increase of 7.5 percent,” he said. “We’re requesting an 8 percent increase for nurses, and we asked them to give that to us and they said no. We also said we’d want the raises to be retroactive and they said no.”
Enloe’s press release said, “Other employee groups at Enloe not limited by the bargaining process will see this year’s market adjustments go into effect on July 8, 2001.”
Castelli said Enloe could offer the nurses a raise during negotiations and there “was a pretty good chance we’d accept it.”
The union rep said that while news of the Enloe offer is not “earth shattering"—Enloe has had the nurses’ economic request in its hands for the last few months—it is important because so many unresolved issues are tied to wages.
“We’re at least headed in the right direction,” he said. “The next few sessions will be pretty telling. We said we needed to get into the economics, and they are responding.”
The next negotiating session is set for July 10.
The day before Enloe announced its offer to the union, the hospital sent a press release announcing its annual market adjustments for other Enloe employees would average 3.7 percent. It went on to note that in 1999 nurses received a 5 percent market adjustment and last year got a 7.5 percent increase.
“We value all of our employees,” the release quoted Enloe Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister, “from the nurses to the housekeepers, and must be able to continue retaining and recruiting exceptional employees to maintain the level of quality care our communities have come to expect from Enloe.
“That’s why, even in tough economic times, we remain so committed to being a fair and competitive employer.”
In an interview, Neumeister explained that of Enloe’s $188 million budget, about $1.2 million is left as surplus at the end of the year. The surplus, he said, allows the market adjustments.
“That surplus represents about a half-percent of our entire budget,” he said. “Most hospitals across the nation realize a 3 percent surplus. But about 65 percent of the hospitals in California lose money.”
Neumeister said the hospital has seen some financial relief recently in part due to large government budget surpluses at both the federal and state levels, which means Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements to hospitals have increased, though not to the levels of just a few years ago.
He said the hospital is also looking to tighten its budget belt through energy conservation, by joining other hospitals in group-purchasing organizations to lower product costs, and by “standardizing” its sponsorship of support groups.
He said the hospital must learn to become more efficient.