UPDATE: University of Vermont Medical Center Nurses Will Strike Thursday
**Original post (from Tuesday, 7/10), appears below this update.**
This morning at 7am, UVMMC nurses began their two-day strike.
I deliberately took the long way to work to witness the main campus (Burlington) action and express solidarity. The sea of red shirts ran deep, the energy high, and I heard many car horns in addition to mine.
I also wanted to add some information that's been making the rounds on Front Porch Forum: a neighborhood-based electronic message board. I've highlighted what I feel are the most relevant parts to this discussion, though take them with a grain of salt as I have not independently verified the facts (that said, I lean toward trusting them):
A large number of our neighbors are employed by the UVM Medical Center and I'm saddened and ashamed to see how poorly they are being treated in their attempt to earn a fair wage, just like their counterparts in Plattsburgh and around the region.
Here are some facts about the situation:
1. Top executives have seen their six and seven figure salaries constantly inflated year to year (15 of the highest paid made a combined $11 MILLION last year)
2. Many veteran nursing staff have not seen a pay raise in YEARS.
3. There are currently 170 nursing and other health-care vacancies at UVM Medical. Without competitive pay, many of those positions will go unfilled leaving patients to suffer.
4. As a result of those vacancies, the hospital is forced to pay for high-priced traveling nurses to be sent in for 13-week stints to help out.
5. Vermont ranks 47th in the country for nursing pay.
The UVM Nurses contract struggle with the UVMMC Administration is not just about them, it affects all of us.
* It involves the need and right of all of us to safe conditions in our hospitals and clinics: right now there are 170 vacancies in nursing positions due in part to low wages and short staffing is built into the hospital's plan, creating a cycle of overwork that leads to stress, burnout and lower quality care.
* It involves the struggle against increasing inequality and inequity & the fight for an equitable society: rather than investing in nurses, who are underpaid and disrespected, the hospital's priorities are executive compensation (CEO made $2.1 million in 2015) and construction and acquisition projects, while nurses are fighting for all low wages UVMMC workers by demanding that all support staff be paid a $15/hr minimum wage, and for wages that will attract and retain nurses.
I'll continue to add more updates as they unfold (time allowing) -- and please chime in with any comments!
**Original post appears below**
On Thursday, July 12, University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC, formerly Fletcher-Allen Healthcare) nurses will walk out on the job. Nearly one month ago, 94 percent of nurses' union members voted in favor of the strike.
At issue: parity with nearby Champlain Valley Physicians' Hospital (CVPH) in Plattsburgh, NY, and the related chronic staffing issues that threaten patient safety. Compared to Burlington, VT, Plattsburgh enjoys a 23.6 percent lower cost of living, yet CVPH nurses are paid 16.2 percent more than UVMMC's. And the results are clear:
Nurses have asked UVMMC administrators specifically if they CAN'T afford to pay us those wages or if they won't. They have never said once they can't, they only say they won't. That speaks volumes about how they view their nurses and the quality of care we provide. They know they are a monopoly with deep pockets and assume we can't or won't go somewhere else to work. Remember, our hospital is SUPPOSED to be non-profit!
Adie said the union wants wage parity with nurses at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, which is a member of the UVM Health Network. The UVM nurses have maintained that their wages are not competitive, which has lead to short staffing and high turnover.
“If the hospital won't bring us closer to a competitive wage, then the crucial issue of safe staffing will never be addressed,” said Adie.
UVMMC nurses -- many of whom have reached ceiling on the maximum "band" of their pay scale -- are asking for a 24 percent raise over three years. This may seem extreme, until you consider that hospital CEO John Brumsted enjoyed a 153 percent increase during the four years between 2011 (when he was hired) and 2015.
According to a Vermont Digger article last year:
Dr. John Brumsted, the CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network and its flagship hospital, took in nearly $2.19 million in compensation [in 2015] ... Brumsted's total compensation includes $979,064 in base pay and $492,000 in bonuses ... Brumsted’s pay in 2015 is the highest amount that any hospital administrator has made [emphasis mine] during that time ... for meeting financial, quality and operational goals."
And yet, when UVMMC nurses ask for a market adjustment, "the administrators literally only picked out hospitals that had lower wages than UVMMC nurses to compare them to when deciding what they think UVMMC nurses are worth."
Despite months of "good faith" negotiations, hospital officials simultaneously planned to hire replacement nurses: paying them $62/hour, and lodging them at one of Burlington's toniest hotels.
Fortunately, UVMMC nurses will benefit from local labor solidarity.
“The (hospital) administration must negotiate a fair contract and start spending their millions where it really counts, or we’ll be seeing them again and again on the picket lines,” said Kathleen Coonrod, a local steward with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.
There is power in a union.