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!

And:

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.

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Eagles92's picture

I published this, and won't be able to attend to any discussion until tomorrow morning (EST). But I'll be there, then: and looking forward to your input! (Hopefully I'll have some thoughtful responses).

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janis b's picture

in many of the ‘more advantaged’ countries. Unfortunately, they opt for short-termed solutions to problems that require long-termed resolutions to be effective. It’s a shame that those who make these decisions are so limited in vision.

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Eagles92's picture

@janis b @janis b As we at C99 percent know all too well, it's all about the money. Not the patients. Not the patient care.

Brumsted's salary is obscene compared to others in the hospital, many of whom (housekeepers, orderlies) don't even make $15 per hour.

Hospital spokesman Michael Carrese previously told Seven Days that wages for other hospital staff are not part of the contract negotiations with the nurses. He said the hospital’s minimum hourly wage is currently $11.79, but it will be $15 by 2020. The hospital must be careful when it raises wages because it is such a large employer, and a shift in wages would pressure other businesses to do the same, according to Carrese.

Emphasis mine. Give me a freaking break, Carrese.

The fact that the CEO of a "nonprofit" hospital is rewarded for his performance on staffing and financials says everything we need to know.

[Edited to add link and blockquote]

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EyeRound's picture

@Eagles92 Where I live "non-profit" or "not-for-profit" applied to a corporation does not mean that the corporation can't make a profit. It means that the corporation can't be listed on the NY stock exchange. Hospitals in NY have been making considerable profits for some time and continue to do so.

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snoopydawg's picture

This has to be the biggest bone headed move I've seen.

"Organizational labor disputes are complex," the site says. "Continuing to provide optimal care is critical to both your stakeholders and the community. ACS works with your team to establish a contingency plan that secures your reputation and supports the lives of your patients."

Hello?

Laurie Aunchman, the president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, said it didn’t surprise her that the hospital was preparing for a strike, just as the 1,800-member union is. “We’re still going to have patients in the hospital that need to be taken care of, and the hospital has to do what it needs to do in taking care of the patients that remain,” she said.

You dumb woman. That the nurses are over-stretched and they are telling you that this is putting patient care at risk is the reason that they are striking. Of course that does it make sense to spend that money to bring in temporary nurses when you could use it for negotiating with the nurses, but then that is the point isn't it? You are telling them that no matter what they do you are not going to sit down with them and work on giving them their raises.

This has been happening in many hospitals for a long time, but it's getting worse. The fact that CEOs are being paid obscene amounts while either not paying their staff enough to keep up with cost of living or cutting them altogether and privatizing their jobs.

IMC hospital in SLC, Utah was the biggest employer in the state. Then it brought in a new CEO who was paid a huge salary and then he started firing doctors, nurses, ancillary staff including respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians and the cafeteria and janitorial staff. He then started firing people who worked in the billing and other clerical areas because he hired a private service that would do their jobs. This company though had been fined numerous times for its shady behaviors. People were given the choice to work with the company or find another job. But the company would offer lower wages, no benefits or retirement plans.

The Supreme Court just took a knife to unions, but with Trump's nomination to replace Kennedy how long until they rule that strikes will be illegal or something in that vein? The war on the American people is turning ugly. The tax cuts, the threat to the safety net, to SS, SSDI, SSI, Medicare and Medicaid are all part of the plan to make this country more of a banana republic than it currently is.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@snoopydawg My neighbor, living across the street, was an emergency room nurse I'd known for years--decades of experience and highly respected. She was a union steward at our local undignified Dignity Health Hospital, allegedly non-profit. Dignity used to be Catholic Hospitals West. It used to really be non-profit. Many of my friends are/were nurses. The three local Dignity Hospitals were subject of a rolling walk-out, where serially, a labor action was taken against each of the three. A fourth local hospital, not Dignity, was also subject to a labor action. Dignity tried their usual strike-breaking activities, apparently beloved of a "University" hospital (UVM). This means hiring so-called traveling nurses who would and did cost the hospital more per hour than the striking nurses, trying to break the strike. Didn't work due to labor solidarity amongst the RNs and LVNs. Needless to say the loss of pay while the walk out was in effect didn't help the strikers in the short term.

Such high remuneration for an effing administrator is outrageous but it is openly symptomatic of the capitalist, money-before-people operation of large corporations--such as hospitals. The callous refusal to adequately pay professional staff DOES COST--it costs patients' lives. Many of the nurses with whom I worked were clinically smarter and definitely more caring than some of the physicians.

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snoopydawg's picture

@Alligator Ed

It too had been a Catholic one that was ran by the Sisters of St. Benidict and many of my family had worked there for years before I started. During the time the sisters were in charge there was such a friendly environment between the different departments. I started working in the laboratory and we would party with people from respiratory, X-ray, the ER and other departments. But when too many of the sisters died they couldn't continue running it so they sold it to a corporation, but it was still run as a non profit. Bull!

One of the first things that happened was my uncle who had worked there for 20+ years was terminated. He started off being a medical technologist and then became the lab director. I don't remember why that happened, but it affected the mood of the entire hospital. This is when that friendly environment started changing and by the time I left it was no longer fun to work there. I heard that they started cutting staffing levels and decreasing the number of people who worked in the other departments to. But of course the CEOs pay continued to rise.

The callous refusal to adequately pay professional staff DOES COST--it costs patients' lives.

I'm wondering if this is the reason why they are decreasing nursing staff levels? They are very aware of what the effect of not enough nurses will do to patient's lives. Maybe that's the point? As Lily said, "no matter how cynical I become I find that it's not cynical enough."

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Eagles92's picture

@snoopydawg Literally. As of the most recent rounds of negotiations, UVMMC leadership refused to be in the same room as the nurses

A bargaining session between the union and the administration was set for 5 p.m. on Friday, but union leaders said hospital representatives will not sit in the same room as them and instead plan to rely on a federal mediator to relay information between the two sides. Prior to Friday, hospital representatives met with the union’s bargaining team directly, according to the union.

Bunch of cowards.

And you're right, snoopy: the American worker is being screwed left, right, and sideways. I'm starting to feel as though we're inching closer to the boiling point.

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snoopydawg's picture

Sheldon Woin wrote about this in 2010, but he put the blame on Obama only when we know that he was just continuing what other presidents had done to get the USA to this point.

Democracy is struggling in America--by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"?

Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive--and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a "managed democracy" where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy's best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

Democracy Incorporated is one of the most worrying diagnoses of America's political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come.

n a new preface, Wolin describes how the Obama administration, despite promises of change, has left the underlying dynamics of managed democracy intact.

"Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"? I'm thinking that the ship has sailed what with the things congress has done and is going to do as well as what the SC will do if Trump's court pick gets on the bench. This is totally up to the democrats whether he even gets a hearing because of the procedures they can take to stop it.

This article by Hedges has been posted here a few times, but here it is again if anyone missed it or wants to read it again. This is one of his best, IMO.

Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism Nov 02, 2015

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Alligator Ed's picture

@snoopydawg

“Unlike the Nazis, who made life uncertain for the wealthy and privileged while providing social programs for the working class and poor, inverted totalitarianism exploits the poor, reducing or weakening health programs and social services, regimenting mass education for an insecure workforce threatened by the importation of low-wage workers,” Wolin writes. “Employment in a high-tech, volatile, and globalized economy is normally as precarious as during an old-fashioned depression. The result is that citizenship, or what remains of it, is practiced amidst a continuing state of worry. Hobbes had it right: when citizens are insecure and at the same time driven by competitive aspirations, they yearn for political stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement.”

From the eloquent article come so many gems. But also emanating from this is a profoundly dispiriting picture of the helplessness of an ordinary citizen or even aggregates of ordinary citizenry in altering a pervasive, truly cancerous affliction from which there is no cure other than self-destruction or catastrophic collapse of empire.

What takes the place of a collapsed Empire, assuming that humans survive? A power vacuum, filled, as in the Middle Ages, by decades or centuries of chaos in which so much beneficial progress is lost as well as the acquired totalitarian curse. What emerges from the other side? None of us will know for none of us will survive the transformation whether peaceful or not.

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snoopydawg's picture

@Alligator Ed

Congress has been transferring our money to the elites and corporations for some time, but since 9/11 we've watched as it has been accelerated. The elites were able to survive the last economic crisis for the reasons they always do plus the banks were bailed out while we were left on our own. The next one is going to be much worse and how will people be able to survive it when they haven't recovered from the last one?

Many people are living with high stress about what is going to happen with their jobs, housing, health, etc because things for them are getting worse for them economically.

This is a great question, Alligator.

What takes the place of a collapsed Empire, assuming that humans survive?

This is a big "if" isn't it? Glad you enjoyed the article.

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Eagles92's picture

@snoopydawg IMHO, it can't be posted enough. It's so relevant to every issue we discuss here, and the more people who read it, the better.

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Lookout's picture

Like servants of the gilded age, they are people to be used and exploited. Perhaps because both professions serve the public, and corporations serve profit?

Last year an old high school chum came by to say he had a new job at a nearby seventh day Adventists hospital. Seems they were playing funny money and were required to investigate. Well my buddy discovered the problem...they had doctors serving in multiple roles (directors of this and that) drawing multiple salaries. He was happy to report his findings after which he was told "We don't have a problem. When can you leave?" Now it was against the law for them to fire him, but he knew they could drag him through court and make his life miserable, so he packed up and left.

I hope the nurses strike has better results. More power to them and their union!

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Eagles92's picture

@Lookout I'm looking forward to driving by and honking, starting tomorrow.

On second thought, maybe I'll walk by, and hand out goodies?

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Mark from Queens's picture

@Eagles92
who is not directly involved showing up in solidarity, with goodwill, a sign, some provisions or an offer to help.

Follow your heart and stand with them, literally. Report back to us.

Thanks, man!

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"If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC"

- Kurt Vonnegut

Lily O Lady's picture

@Lookout

which explains the second class status. This started back before women had the vote. So there’s your problem.

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"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

TheOtherMaven's picture

@Lily O Lady

Originally, teachers and nurses were men. Women moved in, men moved out, and the status of each occupation went into free-fall.

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There is no justice. There can be no peace.

EyeRound's picture

information about the pending strike, E92. Good comments, too, from SD and AE!

I support the strike, if it happens, because I think that nurses should get paid more--the work they do is so important. And everyone can agree that nurses are dangerously overworked in hospitals across the country.

Still, I wish that the striking nurses had more "political savvy" in formulating the reasons for their strike. They use a comparison with other nurses' (in Plattsburgh) pay and living costs in order to say that Burlington nurses should have more pay. That thinking divides nurses against other nurses and plays ideologically right into the hands of the corporate wonks who consider nurses powerless, brainless "employees" that have to be disciplined and divided against one another to keep corporate costs as low as possible.

I live in part of NY State that borders Vermont. UVM Medical Center has been expanding south from Burlington (buying 3 additional hospitals in VT) and across into the NY "borderlands" where they have also taken over three more medical facilities, including the one in the small town where I live. The region from Plattsburgh down to Albany is older and poorer, in general, than elsewhere in NY State. So far the UVM takeover of the small medical facilities in this town has not augured well for the population: several million dollars have been spent on capital "improvements" while the number of physicians has fallen off significantly. It looks like folks here in town are going to have to be satisfied with getting emergency treatment from algorithms and PA's, rather than doctors.

Any further, more advanced medical care entails a two hour drive to the UVMMC hub hospital in Burlington. At Burlington the doctors are under such time stress that yesterday, when partner went to an appointment there, the doctor rushed in, sat down and rushed out again all in about 5 minutes.

As Bernie made known, 15 UVMMC executives are together taking home $11 million in pay, and Brumstead is pocketing some $2 M. This state of affairs is true and obscene, but the observation mis-names the problem. The problem at this point is political; economic inequity follows suit. The exec's firmly believe that they deserve every penny because they're running the show, and they further point out that if you were to take the $$ from their salaries and divide it among, say, the nurses, it would not be enough $$ to meet the nurses' salary demands. As long as the systematic nature of this problem is not addressed (it's capitalism, stupid), this kind of bs will continue to hold sway in the public mind.

What bothers me about the UVM nurses strike is their lack of solidarity with other nurses who are also, now, working within the UVMMC network. Not just in Plattsburgh. Here in my town the turnover of nurses has been a constant feature for years, presumably due in part to miserable nurses' pay, and I assume that Plattsburgh nurses have also been going along on the lower end of the nurses' national pay scale.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but I hear the nurses in Burlington saying, "Yes, we make more than the nurses in Plattsburgh, but we don't make ENOUGH MORE than them." Where does this leave the Plattsburgh nurses, to say nothing of the nurses in the town where I live? UVMCC did offer to raise Burlington nurses' pay up to 25% more than salaries of nurses in Plattsburgh, but this "solution" was rejected by the nurses. Why? Because nurses deserve more. I agree with this, but it's ALL nurses who deserve more, not just nurses in Burlington. The Burlington nurses are striking based on an underlying argument that "pay equity" is not enough. In essence, this means that none of the nurses in the UVMMC system are getting paid enough. The Burlington nurses need to make this argument explicit and loud as the underlying cause for their strike.

In other words, the Burlington nurses are failing to make a politically-based argument, opting instead to make a rather tortured "economic" argument. Economic arguments are housed within a system that pits earners against earners, as we see manifest in the Burlington nurses strike. Such arguments do not represent any real opposition to the corporate owners' economic practices.

If they struck on the basis of a political argument, nurses in the entire UVMMC network as well as across the country might benefit, and that would be a move in the right direction, because the argument would be adequately grounded "against the grain" instead of with it.

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Eagles92's picture

@EyeRound I may have misinterpreted, but I believe the UVMMC nurses' argument is that they are paid less than nurses at CVPH -- which may not be the best political argument, but is certainly germane given the facts that:

1. CVPH is indeed part of the UVM network, so parity matters;
2. The sickest patients from CVPH often ultimately end up at UVMMC, where nurses who are paid less, end up providing critical care; and
3. If CVPH pays more, and UVMMC doesn't care, presumably more nurses will seek employment across the lake, which exacerbates chronic shortages and negatively impacts patient care

I agree that such arguments can be divisive and perceived as whiny, and I think it's very important that there be solidarity among all nurses. IMHO, this is just one small battle in an overall war; if the nurses can prevail, perhaps there will be momentum toward the solution you articulated very well.

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EyeRound's picture

@Eagles92 Thanks E92, for the gracious correction. When I first read your post, I transposed CVPH and UVMMC in the sentence about the 16.5% pay differential. So my initial perception was misbegotten.

My apologies to you, the readers here and to the UVMMC nurses!

(Now to scratch my head wondering how nurses on this side of the lake came to be paid more than in VT??) (And also to wish that the nurses would, maybe in the future, include other hospital employees in their showdown with the corporate owners. . . .)

Anyway, more money and less overwork to the UVMMC nurses and to all this country's "angels of mercy"!!

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EyeRound's picture

@EyeRound but do we know what "wage parity" means in this issue?

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Eagles92's picture

@EyeRound I don't believe I've seen anything specific cited in terms of wages per hour, or average salary, for example ... but I'll keep my eyes peeled and report back, especially as the strike unfolds today and tomorrow.

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...nurses, who are concerned about patient care. UVMMC demands nurses pull extra shifts to do the work of other positions at the hospital. UVMMC is buying up medical centers all over VT and are in effect, a monopoly. So where does the community of patients fit into their equation ? They don't, only the nurses give a shit.

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Eagles92's picture

@Blueslide

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