Anchorage Daily News

Nurses Approve Three Year Contract

By Mike Hinman Daily News Reporter
Jul 15, 1999

Anchorage:"For -- For -- Against ..."

So the counting went in the Laborers Union Hall in East Anchorage as votes were called out on whether the registered nurses at Alaska Regional Hospital would accept a proposed contract. The nurses voted 71-49 to accept the three-year deal, their first-ever with the hospital, ending 21/2 years of negotiations. The contract comes two months after nurses at rival Providence Alaska Medical Center ended a monthlong strike with their own first-time contract.

However, going on strike was not an option for the 210 registered nurses at the smaller Alaska Regional because the union had signed an interim contract in April, on the eve of Providence's strike, that contained a no-strike clause.

The nurses at both hospitals joined unions in the mid-1990s amid a period of change in the health-care industry that involved fewer hospitalizations of patients and more cost-cutting by hospitals. The new contract gives a raise of 5.7 percent the first year and 3 percent for each of the next two years. The contract sets minimum and maximum pay scales of $18.23 and $29.50 respectively the first year, increasing to $18.96 and $30.69 the third year. Nurses over the salary cap will get a lump-sum payment in lieu of raises.

The nurses' wages froze in the fall of 1996 when they voted to join Laborers Local 341. Some nurses received "market adjustment" raises when an interim contract was signed in April. The new contract also changes the way nurses accrue time off. Vacation, holiday and sick time are now lumped into a paid-time-off account with a separate account for extended sickness. The contract is the first between the union and the 235-bed hospital. Mano Frey, business manager of Local 341, said he believes the contract is the first new one between a nurses' union and any hospital owned by Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain. Other contracts were inherited when Columbia bought hospitals, he said.

The union and the hospital avoided some of the pitfalls that befell their competition. Providence sued over union eligibility of nurses with supervisory duties. This and other problems delayed bargaining at Providence.Alaska Regional and the union agreed ahead of time to exclude those nurses.

And the interim contract's no-strike clause eliminated the possibility that nurses at both major hospitals in Anchorage would be on strike together. "Providence pretty well brought the issues right to the front," said Andrew "Bear" Piekarski, Local 341 president. "They did a lot of the tough work, and we put our hats off to them."

Other major issues during the Providence negotiations including nurses input on patient care and rest between shifts were never major issues in the Alaska Regional negotiations, said Bo Wolfe, director of human resources at Alaska Regional.

While the negotiations were never as bitter as at Providence, Laborers and the nurses haven't always been on the same side. Dissident nurses petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to decertify Laborers as their union. That petition, which started before the no-strike temporary contract was signed, failed when a labor judge ruled this year that the interim contract was valid and the decertification window was not yet open, Frey said. "The interim agreement really allowed us breathing room," Frey said. It allowed the union to concentrate on negotiating a contract without the distractions of decertification or a strike. The nurses can still try to decertify the union at the beginning of next year, but that is unlikely once a contract is in place, Frey said.

Piekarski said the contract may not be perfect, but "the next one will be a lot better."

Reporter Mike Hinman can be reached at

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