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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.