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IOWA CITY - The union representing thousands of employees at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, including its nurses, wants all its members to get a raise, be allowed overtime pay, and receive compensation for unused vacation time.
The Service Employees International Union, Local 199, also wants improved nurse-to-patient ratios and the ability to meet with hospital leadership on topics related to employee health and safety - like the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and how the UIHC is prepared.
'We want more dialogue,” union chapter President Cathy Glasson said about the local Ebola response, 'When you have health care workers dying, meeting with us and talking should be the first thing they want to do.”
After presenting their initial proposal for a 2015-2017 contract to UIHC and Board of Regents staff Monday, union officials went into more detail about some of the offered amendments - including requirements that the hospital advise the union of any health- and safety-related changes in equipment, medical treatment or processes, and that 'either party may request to meet to negotiate over health and safety matters.”
Glasson said the union has asked UIHC officials repeatedly to discuss Ebola preparations and to provide detailed documentation of its plans to keep workers safe should an Ebola patient need treatment at the Iowa City hospital. The information provided to date has been vague and 'skimpy,” Glasson said.
'We want more in-depth information,” she said.
Brian Covell, a work site leader for the union and a UIHC emergency room nurse who has been trained in Ebola preparations, said he thinks the hospital is as prepared as it can be, but not as forthcoming as it could be with its plans.
'It's not transparent,” he said.
Regarding compensation, the union - which covers about 3,000 workers - is proposing a 4.75 percent increase for all returning employees for each of the contract's two years. Minimum salaries, like those for new employees, are proposed to increase 3 percent each year.
During the last round of negotiations two years ago, the union proposed a 3 percent increase for both years. while the board proposed a 2 percent increase the first year and a 2.5 percent increase the second year. Those negotiations came to an impasse, went to arbitration, and the board's proposal prevailed.
The union also wants to change the contract's overtime policy. Right now, according to Glasson, there is no uniform policy, and some workers could be exempt from receiving overtime pay.
'Our belief is that a lot of people are working overtime and not being paid,” she said. 'We just want to make sure that if they are providing patient care, they are being paid for the work they are doing.”
The proposal changes the vacation policy to allow employees who have not been granted time off due to scheduling issues - despite reaching capacity in vacation time accrual - to bank those hours. If employees bank hours above a maximum, they would have the option of being paid out.
And paramount to the union's proposed contract is something representatives called 'productivity pay.” The agreement recognizes that, on occasion, employees are asked to care for more than a 'usual number of patients.”
'Under those circumstances, those employees should receive supplemental pay to compensate them for their increased duties,” according to the contract.
Specifically, eligible employees should receive 'productivity pay” of $100 for each four-hour period during which the employee-to-patient ratio is above a level specified in the contract. For example, the nurse-to-patient ratio in the intensive or critical care unit should be one-to-two, according to the contract. Labor and delivery nurses also should have no more than two patients, while nurses in some surgical units - like oncology and hematology - should have no more than four, according to the contract proposal.
'We need to seriously take a look at our staffing levels,” Glasson said. 'And this is one way to have that dialogue.”
UIHC and Board of Regents officials didn't respond to the proposal Monday. They're scheduled to make a counter proposal Nov. 21.