ARLINGTON – Contract talks between the union representing nurses at Cascade Valley Hospital and management that merged with Skagit Regional Health in 2015 have gotten off to a slow and bumpy start, but some progress was made Thursday.
The Cascade Valley Nurses Association, representing 104 nurses and the only remaining independent nurses labor union in the state, said management’s proposals have been unacceptable.
Debbie Bartley, a registered nurse who serves on the bargaining unit, said, “We are negotiating in good faith and trust. That is how we have always approached negotiations.”
Talks got underway in November with the new management team post-merger, prior to the current three-year contract that expired Dec. 23, Bartley said. Nurses are working under their previous contract.
In the past, the nurses have been able wrap up contract talks in four meetings.
“We have met at least ten times already, and we’re maybe halfway there,” Bartley said.
She said the team’s key issues are the definition of paid time off, what is construed as full- time employment when nurses can’t work four 12-hour shifts since that would involve overtime, and how pay would be allocated when a nurse comes in on a day off on short notice. How work hours are defined for some nurses could result in receiving part-time, rather than full-time, benefits.
Another important issue is dependent medical coverage, Bartley said. Technically, nurses have an option for it that amounts to about 75 cents on the hour put toward coverage, but Skagit wants to do away with it and not add any kind of dependent coverage.
Management also doesn’t favor another three-year contract, Bartley said. They are pitching one-year, followed by a two-year contract.
In a statement from Skagit Regional Health, Deborah Martin, Regional Vice President of Human Resources said, “The ongoing process for negotiating the succession labor contract between Skagit Regional Health and the Registered Nurses working at Cascade Valley Hospital is consistent with the labor negotiation processes for Skagit Regional Health’s other labor contracts.
“This process is a departure from the process used before the RNs became employees of Skagit Regional Health. We understand that the change in process is challenging and we appreciate the RNs commitment to achieving a contract with Skagit Regional Health.”
In talks, said Bartley, management has pointed to costs related to the merger, and an expensive new network computer system that the hospital needs to install to keep pace with changes in the hospital industry.
Cascade Valley nurses don’t want to see a repeat of negotiations in 2014 that dragged on for almost a year and wound up in mediation.