By Deb Murphy
After 15 months of negotiations and a rocky start, the Northern Inyo Healthcare District Board of Directors approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the nurses’ union, District Council 57, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at its Wednesday meeting.
The vote was a unanimous 3-0 (Peter Watercott abstained, M.C. Hubbard was absent).
Following nearly two hours of a detailed review of minor changes to the 53-page document by Georgean Stottlemyre, human resources director, the meeting had to be called. In anticipation of a large crowd, the meeting took place at Cero Cosso Community College’s community meeting room with an 8:30 p.m. drop dead timeline.
At 8:20, the board was told it had 10 minutes to conclude. There was some resistance from board members who, given five days to review the document, wanted to table the vote. Union negotiator Jane McDonald and Director Dr. John Ungersma asked that the vote go forward. Board President Denise Hayden called for the vote; the MOU was approved.
Several members of the nurses’ negotiating committee spoke during the public comment period, stating the agreement wasn’t everything they wanted but was fair and equitable.
Some of the changes merely codified policies already in existence according to Dr. Kevin Flanigan, NIH’s chief executive officer.
Other elements of the contract rectified a capped pay scale policy that the CEO described as absurd, something that would be changed throughout the hospital over time. Under the prior system that bumped up the pay scale only for new hires, nurses with extensive experience were paid less than others with far less experience.
The new pay scale, based on a survey of comparable hospitals had already been approved by the board. At one time, nurses’ stepped increases were set at 5-percent, then dropped to 2-percent. Described as just getting back some of what nurses had lost, the new step increase is 2.25-percent.
Another significant issue focused on nurses who had lost their jobs due to prolonged sick leave. Under the new MOU, jobs would be held for 12 months by using temps or travelers to fill the position on a temporary basis.
Rather than being paid a percentage of their salaries for working the night shift, there will be a flat differential of $11 per hour which would be cost neutral according to Flanigan.
When asked about the bottom line to the hospital, Flanigan said negotiations cost $450,000 including paid staff time, plus another $1 million going forward. The nurses’ negotiation committee put in 1400 hours each of their own time. The next question from Director Mary Mae Kilptraick was if that additional million in overhead would force a 4-percent, rather than the proposed 3-percent, increase in services.
Rather than an anticipated $1 million in profits going into the 2016-17 fiscal year, it was recently announced the hospital faces a $3 million deficit, requiring the increase in fees.
“The hard part is bringing everybody back in the fold,” Flanigan said. “We’re recognizing and valuing employees that haven’t been valued in the past. I’m not sure how that happened. It (the MOU) brings everybody up to the proper pay scale but it doesn’t bring those who are overpaid down to the proper level.”
He explained that the increase would be held to 3-percent with the deficit made up by eliminating some of the current 50 open positions. He also indicated the final item on the aborted agenda, which will be taken up at a special meeting: an addendum to his contract. Basically, Flanigan is taking a cut in salary.