Agreement sought for nurse contracts

Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Central Peninsula General Hospital nurses and hospital administrators will sit down with a federal mediator Thursday and Friday to attempt to reach an agreement on 3 1/2-year nurse contracts that expired Oct. 31.

Both sides agreed to request mediation from the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Service in an Oct. 10 meeting, citing what a nurse representative called an inability to reach a settlement.

Shortly following the Nov. 5 general elections, signs soliciting support for the nurses' cause began showing up around the central Kenai Peninsula area. Around the same time, information sheets outlining some of the nurses' key concerns began to surface.

Among those issues were patient safety stemming from mandatory overtime, health care benefits for nurses following retirement, and pay equity with other Alaska hospitals.

Hospital human resources director Debbie Honer said she wanted to stick to the agreement that negotiations should be closed to the media.

"We want to deal with these issues across the table with a federal mediator," she said.

Dianne O'Connell, the labor program director for the Alaska Nurses Association, the organization representing the 90 full- and part-time CPGH nurses, responded to the information sheet saying there needed to be some accountability to those people the nurses serve.

"We want people to feel that we are being open with them," she said. "But we are not trying to draw battle lines."

O'Connell said the greatest concern was the amount of overtime often required, which could sometimes have nurses working beyond a point where they were able to be effective.

"Patient safety has a lot to do with how much a nurse has been working in one shift," she said.

Another side of this issue, however, is that when there aren't enough patients, some hospital units send their nurses home but continue to pay them 25 percent of their salary for the time off. O'Connell said nurses want to make certain that this part of their benefits remain.

"It ensures them a paycheck when it's slow," she said.

The information sheet indicated that nurses were interested in keeping pace with other nurses around the state.

Although she would not reveal specifically what nurses were looking for, in an earlier Clarion article O'Connell compared current pay -- entering nurses make $18.87 per hour and can make $29.60 after 25 years -- to a recently-penned three-year deal by nurses at Providence Medical Center in Anchorage that would pay beginning nurses an hourly rate of $20.86 and jump to $31.90 after 20 years.

Nurses also are asking for health benefits after retirement, though she said this is not a driving point of contention.

"Nurses can spend a lot of years doing hard work, and they can't work after they've retired," O'Connell said. "I'm not going to say we're going to strike over this, but we do want to address this."

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