Exasperated Enloe calls in federal labor mediator

Enloe Medical Center is calling in the big guns.

Tired of negotiating with its nurses for almost a year without making sufficient headway on a contract, the hospital’s labor negotiating team asked for a federal mediator to resolve several long-standing disputes between the nurses’ union and the administration.

The main sticking points are the institution of a union shop, which would require all staff registered nurses to pay monthly union dues whether they want to or not (on the logic that they all reap the benefits of a union contract); mandatory overtime; and a nurses-only professional-practices committee.

California Nurses Association, which represents about 22 percent of the nursing staff at Enloe, maintains that a federal mediator isn’t the “silver bullet” the hospital hopes it will be.

“There are still differences,” said union negotiator Pete Castelli. “This doesn’t change the issues. … If [a federal mediator] can help us resolve them, so be it, but there are issues on the table that the hospital has to understand that we will absolutely not cave on.”

Pam Sime, an administration negotiator, said that’s exactly the problem. She said that the union’s staunch “inflexibility” is the main reason the hospital called in the mediator.

“In the last couple of sessions, I’d say the mood changed dramatically,” Sime said. “We were making proposals, and they were just being rejected without counteroffers. … This is what we felt we had to do to keep the dialogue open.”

Castelli said that the main disagreement between the teams is mandatory union membership—and that the union will not negotiate until the administration agrees to allow it.

“This is a nuts-and-bolts issue,” he said. “This is something that all of our contracts have, and it’s what the nurses at Enloe deserve.”

But the hospital maintains that the nurses who don’t support the union shouldn’t have to pay dues—amounting to about $30 a month.

The first bargaining session with the federal mediator is currently scheduled for Nov. 13. Castelli said he expects the next month to be critical to avoiding a strike.