Porter nurses ratify first-ever union contract

MIDDLEBURY — The first-ever contract signed between Porter Medical Center (PMC) and its nurses will, among other things, grant salary increases of 2 percent during each of the three years of the pact.

It was on Dec. 17 that PMC administrators and representatives of the Porter Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (PFNHP) announced a tentative agreement. Negotiators then promised additional details after official ratification of the contract, which occurred on Dec. 22. Terms of the pact, which took effect upon ratification and will continue through Sept. 30, 2017, include:

•  The creation of six staffing committees to address personnel recommendations and safe staffing issues.

•  What union leaders described as “serious limits” in the use of mandatory overtime.

•  Guarantees that nurses will be “consulted and fully trained” on all new equipment before it is put into use, according to a union press release.

•  A wage scale that will, over time, correct what union officials called “inequities” in wages at Porter Medical Center.

•  Guaranteed paid certifications for continuing education, a factor that that union officials believe “will improve patient care at PMC as well as improve recruitment and retention,” according to the PFNHP press release.

Janet Mosurick, a PMC nurse, offered some of her thoughts about the terms of the contract.

“Two years of planning, dreaming and hard work ended up to be a great accomplishment that led to the reality, a first nursing contract for the hospital where I am proud to work,” Mosurick said.

The negotiated contract will cover the more than 140 full- and part-time nurses who work at Porter Hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, and the network of around a dozen physicians’ offices affiliated with Porter Medical Center. Nurses have cited concern over staffing levels and a desire to become more involved in PMC operations, as well as such workplace issues as continuing education, professional advancement, comprehensive orientation for new nurses and recruitment/retention of personnel.

“The delivery of healthcare is better for a community when workers and management can bargain over issues affecting patients, and that’s what happened here,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a press release. The Porter union is affiliated with AFT.

She continued: “The issues addressed in this first contract were the catalyst for the RNs to form a union so they would have an avenue to discuss ways to improve patient and working conditions. Ensuring patient safety is a top priority for all nurses, including those at Porter Medical Center. Forced overtime and chaotic schedules put patients and nurses at risk. The agreement ratified on Monday will minimize that risk, ensuring that nurses work under safe and sane working conditions and patients get the high-quality care they deserve.”

Porter administrators were also pleased with the contract.

Ron Hallman, PMC spokesman, said the 2 percent raise for nurses is consistent with the same salary increase that other Porter employees will received beginning on Jan. 1. And Hallman said PMC will also strive to extend, to all PMC workers, the same 2-percent raise that nurses will be getting in years two and three of their deal.

“One of our fundamental issues has been to do everything within our ability to be fair and equitable to all of our employees,” Hallman said. “Our general philosophy in this negotiation has been, whatever we include in the contract would be items that we felt in our hearts we could strive for to make available to our workforce, going forward. We feel good that the numbers we ended up with are potentially doable for all.”

Dave Fuller, director of human resources for Porter, said the medical center already offers an education advancement program to all of its employees, which will continue. The hospital will encourage its nurses to further their education within their profession, he said.

Hallman believes that everyone within the PMC community can be proud of the contract.

“I think we started this process with a set of core principles, including that we have a respectful process, that we have a process that is fair and equitable to all our employees and doesn’t favor one group over another, that we keep our patients and residents at the center of all of our discussions and decision making, and that we have (an agreement) that is fiscally responsible to the organization that we are responsible for stewarding,” Hallman said. “I think we feel we hit all of those marks.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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