Nurses negotiate by candlelight

Hoping to increase their visibility in the community, as union contract talks continue after nine months of bargaining, registered nurses at Enloe Medical Center are holding a candlelight vigil for an hour Thursday night, Aug. 23, in front of the hospital beginning at 8 o’clock.

“Obviously we’re using a lot of different tactics to forge our campaign,” said Pete Castelli, spokesman for the California Nurses Association, which last year was voted in by Enloe’s nurses to help negotiate a working contract with the hospital administration.

“We still have some distance to go on the economic issues,” he said. “[But] that’s not the main problem. The administration is still holding out on issues like having a union shop. Ninety-nine percent of our contracts [with other hospitals] include union shops. That is very important economically.”

A union shop would mean all the registered nurses, whether they voted for union representation or not, would pay union dues. That is because they all receive the benefits of the union contract.

The other sticking point in negotiations, as cited in the announcement of the vigil, is the right of nurses to form a professional-practices committee that would be autonomous and meet with the administration to address problems concerning patient safety.

Castelli said that, as far as he knows, every contract the CNA has negotiated in hospitals across the state includes a PPC.

“What the hospital says is no union shop, which would allow us to run our organization, and no professional-practices committee, which puts nurses in a protected environment and allows them to come up with strategies for patient care,” Castelli said. “The administration wants something that is run by the employer and consists of a committee that has limited input. That is something they could have done [before the union was voted in] but didn’t propose until now.”

The union is proposing a PPC whose members are elected by the nurses and “make real recommendations,” Castelli said. “It’s not run by management, so there is real input and it can critically examine the administration.

Pam Sime, vice president of human resources and part of the administration negotiating team, said Enloe has offered a patient care liaison committee that would be made up of more than just nurses.

“It would involve the entirety of the patient care team,” she said. “That’s the way health care is going today.”

Castelli said that, at this point in negotiations, the sides are not very far apart on financial issues, but disagreement remains on mandatory overtime, seniority issues, a grievance and arbitration policy and fair compensation for educational leaves.

“We have agreed on a lot of issues,” Castelli said, “but now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty. And we are making progress.”

There are three bargaining sessions scheduled for September, which Castelli says makes it a pivotal month in the bargaining process.

Enloe Vice President Dan Neumeister agreed that the nurses are trying to raise the public awareness of the negotiations.

“I think the candlelight vigil is one of the normal things they do in the progression of contract negotiations with hospitals,” Neumeister said. “Negotiations are going quite well for both sides.”

He said the three meetings in September are a result of an administration request to hold more meetings. "We’d like to speed things up," he said.