Union blues

California Nurses Association accuses Enloe of stalling contract negotiations

Union-approved lunch: Pete Castelli, a negotiator for the California Nurses Association, invited Enloe Medical Center registered nurses to a potluck lunch at Oxford Suites May 8.

Union-approved lunch: Pete Castelli, a negotiator for the California Nurses Association, invited Enloe Medical Center registered nurses to a potluck lunch at Oxford Suites May 8.

Photo by Tom Angel

Eight months after Enloe Medical Center nurses voted to bring in union representation to negotiate for a working contract that could include wage increases, job security and a host of other benefits, little if any progress has been made, the nurses say.

Last September, 420 registered nurses voted on whether to have the California Nurses Association (CNA) represent them in efforts to hammer out a contract with Enloe’s administration. Following months of campaigning that included bitter accusations and complaints from both sides, 240 nurses voted for the union and 180 against.

Pete Castelli, the corporate campaign manager who took over as CNA’s lead negotiator soon after the meetings began in December, now accuses the administration of deliberately slowing the negotiations.

“Quite honestly, the union position is that the hospital is dragging its feet in these negotiations,” Castelli said May 8, when the 10th and most recent meeting between the nurses and administration was held at Oxford Suites.

“There has been bargaining, and we are exchanging proposals,” he said. “Initially there was a lot of pressure put on us to give them our economic proposals, which we did. But there’s been no word from them since. They’re playing what I call a wordsmith game.”

Dan Neumeister, the Enloe chief operating officer speaking on behalf of the administration, said he had heard the same frustrations being voiced by the nurses.

“I think part of it is that this is a new process for some of our pro-union nurses, and they’ve never been through this before,” he said. “It takes time.”

Neumeister pointed out that the union reps made statements last fall indicating the negotiations could take up to a year.

“Having been through these things before myself, I can tell you that no one is stalling,” he said. “It just takes time to go from a blank page to a negotiated contract.”

Castelli, however, says he’s also been through contract negotiations and in retrospect he is not surprised by what he sees as Enloe’s less-than-cooperative posture, based on the “ugly anti-union campaign” the administration ran.

“This was one of the most vicious anti-union campaigns our side’s ever seen,” he said. “What they want to do is drag it out as much as they can. Time is on their side.”

There have been agreements on what Castelli says are the “simple, boilerplate things,” such as leave and policies for working outside the hospital. But the more difficult issues, such as wages, recognizing nurse seniority, establishing an on-site professional practices committee and adding a closed-shop clause, meaning all registered nurses must join the union, are stalled. (Castelli adds that even without a contract a professional-practices committee is being formed right now.)

“I’ve been at the table many times, and while they are not breaking the letter of the law, they are going against the spirit of negotiations in that we are not making progress,” he said. “I can’t say they don’t want a contract, and we did expect a struggle.

“It’s our guess that there are some in management who just won’t give in, and they are trying to turn the tables to make it look like we are the ineffective ones. The longer they go without a contract, the longer they go without giving pay raises.”

He would not say how much the union was asking other than that it was “substantial and based upon the market range.”

Both sides have agreed that there is a nursing shortage across the country. Castelli argues that an attractive union contract will help Enloe bring in new nurses.

“Right now they are using a lot of traveling nurses,” he said. “The Oxford Suites is full of them. Enloe is paying not only for their services at the hospital but for their travel and room and board as well.”

Castelli says negotiations have been held at least every two weeks and sometimes two weeks in a row. They run from 10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon.

A newsletter sent by Enloe to its nurses says the union ended four of the first eight meetings “due to lack of preparation.”

The next few meetings, the CNA representative said, are “paramount in that, is this a company that intends to reach an agreement or are they setting up a fight?”

He said the union would become more visible in the community over the next few weeks, handing out leaflets and setting up booths for blood pressure tests at the Farmers’ Market.