Unionized nurses at UVM Medical Center in Burlington returned to work Saturday following a two-day strike. Negotiators plan to return to bargaining sessions with hospital administrators next Tuesday. As the two sides continue to wrangle over a three-year contract, the Burlington City Council weighed in this week — passing a non-binding resolution calling on the parties to find common ground.
The union and management at Vermont’s largest hospital remain far apart with the primary sticking point a 23 percent wage increase from nurses versus a hospital offer of 13 percent over three years. Nurses say their current wages rank 47th per capita nationally, making it difficult to recruit and retain individuals, and that has led to some 110 nursing positions remaining open.
At the Burlington City Council meeting this week, representatives unanimously passed a non-binding resolution sponsored by Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine asking both sides to find common ground and come to an agreement. “The council in the past on issues involving labor disputes labor negotiations has chosen not to take a position really. And I understand and appreciate that past practice by the council. What inspired me to bring forward and draft this resolution was a recognition that much like our first responders, our police and fire, the work that our hospital does is still critical to our community’s health safety and well-being. I think it’s appropriate for the council to take a position.”
During the public comment session, UVM Medical Center President and CEO Eileen Whalen said nurses are critical to their team. “In the wake of last week’s strike I know that the Burlington City Council will be discussing a resolution that calls for the medical center and the union to find common ground and to reach a fair agreement. All of you and all of the people in this community are counting on us to do just that. We support this resolution. On behalf of the medical center I want to say that we honor and value our trusted nurses and we are committed to reach a fair agreement with the union that represents them. I am confident we will find common ground.”
Nurse Deb Snell is Executive Vice President of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the union representing the 1,800 nurses at the hospital. “We believe the values shared by the city of Burlington are also shared by the nurses at the medical center. We also hope to find a fair resolution in these contract negotiations that have become rather contentious. We strongly feel that the hospital needs to think about investing in nurses in the future. And it’s not just the nurses here at the medical center it’s the nursing future across the entire state of Vermont.”
Ward 1 Independent Sharon Bushor recused herself from any discussion or vote on the resolution because she is a medical technician at an affiliated facility.
North District Independent Councilor David Hartnett supports the resolution, saying it’s a public safety issue. “I hear the administration speak tonight about how much the nurses mean and how dedicated they are and how much they think of them. And I hear the nurses talk about how much they love their job. And I don’t doubt either one. Why, why can’t we settle this? I thought there was a good forth effort put by the nurses about a one-year contract and then hammer out a long-term contract. And yet we end up paying you know $3 to 5 million for a two day strike. The longer this goes on the more it tears up this community. So I urge both sides get back at the table because I fear if we wait longer we’re going to have another strike on our hands. And to me it’s not worth it.”