Thursday September 20, 2018
Negotiations for higher wages and adequate staffing ratios between the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) administration and the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals has been ongoing since late March.
At the last council meeting, Diane Zeller, representing the nurses’ union, and Chuck Pizer, the director of community engagement at Rights and Democracy, presented a resolution to the South Burlington City Council requesting their show of support. The resolution contained information about the medical center’s reach, the history of the nurses’ union and their desire for safe staffing and competitive pay.
At the Sept. 17 meeting, Zeller and Pizer returned to make their case to councilors. Prior to hearing from them, however, Chair Helen Riehle said that she had heard from the hospital’s administration asking for the opportunity to comment on the resolution and rectify what they considered “inaccuracies” within the document.
While the council initially considered hearing from the administration at its second meeting in October, several councilors were concerned about taking a position on an issue as a board that could potentially compromise their own collective bargaining negotiations. Tom Chittenden said that as an individual he supports nurses, but as someone who sits on nine boards, he thought the hospital administration should be heard if the council planned on voting on a resolution.
City Councilor Tim Barritt said that if the council singed a resolution supporting the nurses, it may reflect a prejudice, for example, if the city reaches an impasse with its own public safety bargaining agreements. “It could be seen as bias or reverse bias,” Barritt said.
Councilor David Kaufman added that he “supports nurses 100 percent,” but didn’t think the council could take a position one way or another. “We may be pro nurse but it’s not our job to get involved in the dispute... we can just encourage a quick resolution.”
During the public comment portion of the evening, resident Marcia Dunham said she was taken aback when she read the resolution. She said the city needed to hear both sides before acting.
“There’s a big difference between supporting the nurses in their union endeavors and supporting the nurses ... this is an inappropriate forum for this to play out in,” she said.
Zeller and Pizer reiterated that the medical center is short staffed and the union’s desire is to ensure patient safety. Zeller also said that they are continuing to negotiate with the administration.
Pizer added that having quality healthcare in close proximity is one of the things that enhances the region’s quality of life. He said that the hospital administration is “not interested in meeting with community members, but maybe they will listen to the leaders in our community.”
Prior to the vote being taken, resident Ray Gonda said the council should not remain neutral since “everyone is affected by what happens at the hospital” and noted that there’s significant difference between “a hospital situation and private industry.”
In the end, however, the board remained neutral.
A motion by Kaufman that “the South Burlington City Council recognizes the incredible importance of quality medical care provided by doctors, nurses and many others in the greater Burlington community and calls on the UVMMC management and the Vermont Federation of Nurses to find common ground and come to an agreement on staffing and wages that is in the best interest of the community,” was passed unanimously.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent