Wage increases of up to 16 percent, new seniority definition part of contract.

Last updated: May 03. 2013 11:40PM - 3330 Views

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SCRANTON — More than 400 union nurses at Geisinger-Community Medical Center voted late Thursday to accept a 3 1/2-year contract with the Geisinger Health System that includes wage increases of up to 16 percent over the deal’s life and changes to the employees’ benefits plan.

The contract approval came just two days after the union’s three-year deal with Wilkes-Barre General Hospital nurses expired.

The existing three-year contract between the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Employees and Geisinger-CMC wasn’t set to expire until January and both sides praised the agreement and the way it was handled.

“The idea to begin early was mutual,” said Bill Cruice, executive director of the union and lead negotiator on behalf of the nurses. “Geisinger approached us about changing the definition of seniority; we expanded the discussion to cover all contract issues.”

“We certainly have our differences, but I must say that Geisinger approached these negotiations with professionalism and respect,” said Cruice. “Nurses are absolutely central to healing and the patient’s experience in the hospital; as a hospital employer, you can’t even begin to think about providing quality patient care when you are at war with your employees.”

Highlights of the contract, which runs until January 2017, include:

* Depending on years of nursing experience, wage increases of between 11 and 16 percent over the course of the deal.

* Improvements in differentials paid for working evening and night shift.

* The establishment of a wellness initiative, where nurses who choose to participate can cut their current employee contributions for health coverage nearly in half.

* A change in the definition of seniority that extends seniority of CMC nurses to the entire Geisinger Health System.

“We are pleased with the new contract. The increase in wages should help in the recruitment and retention of skilled nurses,” said Roben Rosenberg Schwartz, a registered nurse and the president of the local nurses’ union at CMC that has 280 members and represents more than 400 registered nurses, nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

The final vote, according to Cruice, was 180-4.

Since the Scranton hospital became part of Geisinger Health System in a merger two years ago, it has hired 419 employees, including 114 nurses.

Geisinger previously announced a $158.6 million capital investment in Scranton, including $80 million for a major facility expansion at Geisinger-CMC and $20 million to implement an advanced electronic health record system at the medical center.

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Employees also represents about 450 nurses at Community Health Systems-owned Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. In 2011, after two years of negotiations, the union signed a deal with the hospital that expired April 30.

Cruice said the union is “currently in contract negotiations with CHS at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital” and added that the next bargaining session is scheduled for late this month.

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