Management at Nathan Littauer Hospital and the union representing its nurses are butting heads once again over contract negotiations.
The Gloversville hospital system has accused the New York State Nurses Association of bad-faith bargaining in a complaint filed Monday with the National Labor Relations Board. The two sides have been in negotiations for several months on a new contract to replace one that expired at the end of 2013.
Specifically, the allegation against the union is refusal to bargain, bad faith or surface bargaining, different ways of saying the union is essentially going through the motions, with no intention of reaching an agreement. Hospital officials were unable to elaborate Tuesday.
“We can’t comment because we’re in negotiations as we speak,” said Littauer spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan. “It’s just timing.”
NYSNA, which represents 138 nurses at the hospital, said the charge is without merit.
“Management at Nathan Littauer should stop spending vital patient care resources on fighting its own caregivers and instead work together with nurses to focus on providing the very best care to our patients,” said NYSNA spokeswoman Eliza Bates.
Nurses presented contract proposals to management Tuesday that would raise wages to be in line with the statewide median salary for nurses, improve access to care, raise patient care standards and create a nurses committee that makes regular recommendations on patient care, among other things. According to the union, management responded to these proposals by presenting their “last, best and final offer.”
“Management did not bargain over any of the proposals we put on the table today,” Bates said.
The situation is not unfamiliar. Littauer nurses nearly went on strike in 2011 over a bargaining stalemate. In that case, it took more than a year of heated negotiating sessions, two informational pickets and the threat of a walkout for nurses and management to reach a new agreement.
Nurses are fighting now for many of the same issues they fought for then, like lighter patient loads. One proposal in the current round of negotiations would set nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at levels designed to protect patient safety. Examples, Bates said, would be one nurse to four non-critical antepartum patients or one nurse to six patients in the well-baby nursery units.
Wages were also a sticking point during the last round. The union is proposing the hospital bring nurse wages up to the state median by the end of the contract. This will help the hospital recruit and retain qualified nurses, the union says.
In addition, the union proposed creating a “professional practice committee” made up of frontline nurses that meet regularly to make recommendations on issues related to patient care and nursing practice.
“I’ve been working here at Nathan Littauer for over 25 years, and this is the hospital that my family uses,” said Marion Enright, a registered nurse, in a statement released by the union. “The nurses need to be treated fairly to recruit and retain skilled and experienced caregivers. We have a close-knit family here of nurses and patients. We want what is best for our patients, and you can’t put a price on patient care.”