ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Regional Hospital nurses voted overwhelmingly to rejected a proposed contract and to authorize a strike.
More than half of the hospital's 250 registered nurses voted on the three-year contract and almost 95 percent of them voted no. In addition, 85 percent voted to authorize a strike, said Mano Frey, business manager for Laborers Union Local 341, which bargains on behalf of the nurses.
Frey said he knew the proposed contract had shortcomings that upset the nurses.
''The nurses are absolutely unified in their efforts to get a fair contract,'' he said. ''It shows a strength of solidarity that surprised me.''
Ed Lamb, chief executive officer for Alaska Regional, was also taken aback when he heard the results.
''I thought the contract was a fair offer,'' he said. ''I thought that we had proposed a generous ... contract that reflected what was going on in the marketplace.''
Marie Bair and Barbara Quaid, both registered nurses, said their colleagues held rallies to explain the proposed contract and how it did not address their main concerns: the lack of a medical plan after retirement and a pension program. The absence of those retirement benefits doomed the contract, said the nurses and Frey.
Even though the nurses authorized a strike, Frey said they have not given formal notice that they will walk off the job.
Frey said the union and hospital management likely will reopen negotiations in the next couple of weeks.
The wage increases in Alaska Regional's proposed contract are similar to the increases Providence Alaska Medical Center nurses accepted in their contract voted on in June.
Frey said nurses thought the wage increases were fair, but wanted more flexibility in moving up the pay scale. Under the proposed contract, nurses had to work a certain number of years and hours before receiving a raise. But if nurses took sick leave or time off, they would have to wait longer to make more money.
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