Anchorage Daily News

Nurses Challenge Leaders Alaska Regional Contract Under Fire


Daily News reporter

Dissident nurses at Alaska Regional Hospital have petitioned to decertify the union that represents them, saying the union hasn't made enough progress in obtaining a permanent contract. Before a decertification vote can take place, the National Labor Relations Board must give its approval. The agency must decide if an interim contract reached by the union, Laborers Local 341, and the hospital is a legitimate collective bargaining agreement and, if it is, whether it prevents the nurses from holding a decertification vote at this time.

An NLRB official held a hearing on the matter Wednesday. The agency's regional director in Seattle could make a decision on a decertification vote in two weeks, said Norm Hayashi, the NLRB's hearing officer. The nurses filed the decertification petition April 19, a week after the interim contract was signed. At least 30 percent of the bargaining unit's roughly 215 nurses were required to sign the petition to force the issue to a vote. The petition drive started in March, long before the agreement was signed, said Susan Schapira, spokeswoman for the dissident nurses.

The nurses are also upset with the suddenness of the interim contract, which they believe is worse than a contract that was rejected in May 1998, and with a lack of communication between the union and its nurses, Schapira said. "We feel the union has not represented the nurses well," Schapira said at the hearing.

The hospital and the dissident nurses debated the need for the interim agreement during Wednesday's hearing. The hospital's attorney said it wanted some sort of agreement to prevent the kind of labor problems that have occurred at Providence Alaska Medical Center, where nurses went on strike April 15. The interim contract has a no strike/no lockout clause. "We needed to have an assurance of stability," said Mallory Phillips, Alaska Regional's attorney.

The nurses countered that they had already agreed not to strike while negotiations continued. That was not good enough, Phillips said. The hospital needed a legally binding document, not just the negotiator's word. He said the hospital also wanted a "market correction" to its nurses' wages to keep the hospital competitive in retaining and recruiting nurses. The increases were not an across-the-board raise and were given to about half of the nurses. The others have not received a raise since the nurses voted to unionize in September 1996, Phillips said.

The interim agreement calls for both sides to continue negotiations until a final agreement is reached. Issues not covered in the agreement include pay raises for the nurses who didn't receive the market correction, shift differentials and staffing issues, said Mano Frey, business manager of Local 341.

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