Nurses, Albany Med reach tentative contract after three years

Albany Medical Center nurses rally in front of the hospital on Labor Day 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Albany Medical Center nurses rally in front of the hospital on Labor Day 2020.

ALBANY — Albany Medical Center and the union representing nearly 2,000 of its nurses have agreed on a tentative contract after three years of sometimes combative negotiations.

Albany Med and the New York State Nurses Association announced the development Wednesday afternoon. The nurses began voting on the proposal Wednesday and will continue Thursday; NYSNA said it expected results Thursday evening.

The deal calls for automatic raises for all NYSNA members and merit-based raises for some, as well as other measures that will increase the nurses’ income, such as shift differentials and market rate adjustments.

The two announcements contained some differences in their focus.

Albany Med CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna said the deal would make union membership (and union dues) optional for nurses, a potentially costly detail for NYSNA that the union didn’t mention in its statement.

NYSNA highlighted a provision that would set safe staffing patterns, a potentially costly detail for Albany Med that McKenna didn’t mention in his videotaped message.

McKenna’s choice of words also reflected the lengthy, often bitter labor standoff between nurses and the hospital.

“These are the facts,” he said, emphasizing each word as if to differentiate his message from any conflicting messages that might be floating around.

“Many of the terms reflect the proposal we have presented to the union,” he said, adding that they represent the hospital’s fundamental values of fairness, fiscal responsibility, safety and quality.

NYSNA in its statement said:

“We congratulate every nurse at Albany Med, who persisted in strengthening the union and fighting for a fair union contract in the face of so many obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic. …  Securing a binding union contract will end Albany Med management’s unilateral decision making and secure workers’ rights.”

Albany Med’s nurses voted to unionize by a roughly 2-1 ratio in April 2018 and contract talks began soon after. The protracted impasse escalated to a dispute at times, with the union filing labor complaints against the hospital with federal regulators and the hospital denouncing a one-day strike by the nurses in December, as the pandemic was rapidly worsening.

NYSNA said it would make details of the contract proposal public after members voted on it.

McKenna went into specific detail on some aspects of the contract, particularly the increasing sums of money that would be paid to nurses. Some examples:

  • A 1.5% guaranteed annual raise for all nurses;
  • A merit-based raise of up to 1.5% for some nurses;
  • A previously agreed-on market-rate pay hike of $2.30 per hour;
  • Increases in on-call, weekend/evening shift differential, and education pay;
  • Compensation for cost of continuing education;
  • Caps of $5 and $10 a month on increases in health insurance premiums for single and family policies;
  • And a $1,000 finder’s fee to nurses who refer a new nurse who is hired and remains on the job for at least a year.

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