Nurses ratify IRMC pact
January 31, 2014 11:00 AM
by SAM KUSIC
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Nurses at Indiana Regional Medical Center have ratified a new labor agreement that provides for annual pay increases but freezes their traditional pension plan.

The nurses, organized under the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s health care unit, approved the agreement Thursday. The union represents 365 registered nurses and certified registered nurse anesthetists at the hospital.

Union officials could not be reached for comment this morning, but hospital administrators said they believed the contract was overwhelmingly approved. The union, however, did not share a tally of the vote, said hospital spokesman Mark Richards.

The contract is for two years and expires Oct. 31, 2015. Under the deal, nurses will receive pay increases of 2 percent in the first year and 1.5 percent in the second year.

They will see a reduction in the maximum amount of sick time they can accrue per year, going from 12 days to 8.5 days.

Also, nurses who remain in the pension plan will be moved into a 403(b) retirement savings plan. A 403(b) is essentially the same as a 401(k) plan.

The hospital began the transition away from a traditional pension in 2011, but the previous nurses’ contract held that those with at least 25 years of service would be grandfathered in.

By the end of the contract that just expired, 10 percent of the hospital’s overall workforce remained in the pension, which will be frozen effective July 1. The hospital said retired nurses will retain benefits under the pension.

Additionally, the contract includes changes to language covering staffing and scheduling practices. Hospital officials said those changes are to the benefit of the nurses.

Barb Henning, a regional field director for the union, said in a statement that staffing is a “critical issue” for nurses.

“We look forward to implementing the changes that we discussed, and to continuing the dialogue we began at the table,” she said. “It’s a matter of patient safety, which is at the heart of what we do.”

The hospital, meanwhile, said it believes the deal is fair.

“It is a win for nurses, the Medical Center and for patient care,” said Steve Wolfe, the hospital’s president and CEO, in a prepared statement.

“The agreement is a fair contract that maintains a positive work environment for our nursing staff while allowing IRMC to address the challenges of declining reimbursements and escalating costs.”

The new deal replaces the previous contract that expired Oct. 31. That deal was twice extended during bargaining, once to Dec. 30 and again to Jan. 20.

Hospital and union negotiators reached a tentative deal following 32 hours of bargaining that came down to the wire on Jan. 20, averting a possible labor action.

The deal now will go before the hospital’s board of directors for approval. The board has scheduled a vote for Feb. 13.

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