Thursday, July 04, 2002

Ratified nursing contract seems to please everyone

Strike could have disrupted hospitals

By Tim Bonfield,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It almost came down to a strike, but both sides say they can walk away satisfied with the new nurse contract at University Hospital.

        In voting that ended at midnight Tuesday, members of the Registered Nurses Association voted 79 percent in favor of a new three-year contract.

        The approval means a strike that could have wrought havoc with hospital care throughout Greater Cincinnati won't happen.

        Key provisions of the new deal include an agreement to end mandatory overtime by 2004 and to form a high-level committee of executives and nurses to work on ways to increase nurse staffing levels.

        The contract includes raises ranging from 8.96 percent to 14.2 percent over three years, depending on a nurse's seniority and job specialty. It also offers a promise to start raising money to launch an on-site child-care center — a rare service among hospitals and a potential recruitment perk.

        “We believe they're committed to addressing these issues. We're taking them at face value,” said RNA co-chairwoman Mary Murphy. “The mandatory overtime issue was the biggest issue. I know 2004 sounds like a long time away, but really, the changes that need to be made can't be done overnight.”

        The financial impact of the new contract has not been fully calculated, said Gail Myers, spokeswoman for the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, which includes University Hospital.

        The Health Alliance, which is expected to post a slim net profit the fiscal year that ended June 30, had already factored in an undisclosed increase in labor costs for the coming year.

        It remains too early, however, to estimate the costs of adding staff nurses against the savings of reducing overtime payments and agency nurse expenses.

        “We felt we got a fair contract,” Ms. Myers said. “We think this will improve our ability to recruit nurses to University Hospital.”

        Ms. Murphy agrees.

        “We believe things like mandatory overtime are the root causes of the nursing shortage, not just here but nationwide,” she said. “You know there are more nurses in the state of Ohio now than there ever have been. But they've left the bedside because of the working conditions.”

        Ms. Murphy also predicts the child-care center promise could make many younger nurses reconsider working at University Hospital.

        “I've never understood, in my 22 years as a nurse, why more hospitals don't have day cares when 90 percent of the nurses are women,” she said.


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