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  April 15, 2002

Health Center Management,
Union Agree on New Contract
By Pat Keefe

Subject to legislative approval, the Health Center and University Health Professionals will have a new contract July 1.

The contract has been approved by vote of the union membership, approved by the Board of Trustees, and is currently in Hartford awaiting legislative action.

The contract deals squarely with and resolves two of the most troublesome issues for hospital management and hospital unions: staffing flexibility and mandatory overtime. The Health Center's agreement addresses these problems in a variety of ways and may provide a model solution to these national problems.

"I'm pleased with the contract," said Joan Mazzone, associate vice president for human resources at the Health Center. "It's an equitable contract that provides competitive wages and addresses the overtime concerns of the union, yet it allows hospital management the flexibility it needs to provide the Health Center's high standard of care and to meet a fluctuating and unpredictable patient census."

Jean M. Morningstar, president of University Health Professionals, said the contract "comes a long way in terms of health care delivery. Our most important issue is control of mandatory overtime. We believe it's bad for the health care worker, but even worse for the patient. Through a lot of hard work, frank communication, and cooperation, we have managed to eliminate it from the contract."

Hospital staffing levels are set to provide care for an average patient census. But when the census grows, patients still need to be cared for, and that translates into required overtime for clinical staff. Mandatory overtime is a sticking point between management and workers at hospitals nationwide.

Union members say mandatory overtime is unfair and potentially dangerous to patients and workers, since long hours may diminish alertness and efficiency. Nurses, aides, and other clinical staff say if staffing levels were increased, there would be no need for overtime.

Management replies that staffing for a higher census that may not occur is ruinous economically and that hospitals, already hard-pressed financially, simply don't have the luxury of maintaining contingency employees. Management says it needs flexibility and cooperation in assigning staff where patients need their care.

The Health Center's agreement addresses this problem in a variety of ways, and may provide a national solution. Agreements dealing with mandatory overtime include:

  • replacing it with incentives to volunteer to work overtime;
  • finalizing the John Dempsey Hospital "float matrix", which enables management to move nurses where they are needed;
  • establishing a 30-day window period for clinical staff on 90 percent time to increase their hours to a 40-hour week. This will provide more coverage in clinical areas; and
  • increasing the notice time required for the Hospital's clinical employees to call in their sick absences from one hour to three hours before their shift.

Agreements dealing with flexibility and the ability to subcontract that were agreed upon include:

  • renewal of subcontracting language that enables the Health Center to be flexible in contracting out situations;
  • greater flexibility to move nurses and specialized staff throughout the University Medical Group and UConn Health Partners; and
  • flexibility in allowing new faculty to bring their existing research staff to the Health Center without posting the jobs.
Negotiations began last September.

"Both negotiating teams worked very well," said Karen Duffy Wallace, a member of the Health Center's negotiating team and director of labor relations. "The negotiations were professional and the participants were cooperative. It's gratifying to have this settled in a timely fashion."

Morningstar, the union president, said "This has been an overwhelmingly positive negotiation. It's hard work under the law to get a contract out on time. Health Center management agreed to work with us and start negotiations early, with the result we have a contract that meets both sides' needs."

Other contract provisions include:

  • a reduction in the amount of time the Health Center gives an employee with recall rights to a position the opportunity to respond to a job offer, from 15 days to five;
  • the ability to release hospital staff from work twice a year, if the census does not support the staffing level;
  • a referral bonus for Health Center employees successfully referring candidates for open jobs at the Health Center;
  • increased eligibility for UHP conference/workshop funds; and
  • a cash payment for employees who adopt a child.

Members of the UHP negotiating team included: Ben Wenograd, chief negotiator; Morningstar; and Renae Reese, first vice president.

Members of the Health Center's negotiating team included: Michael Foley, chief negotiator; Mazzone; and Wallace.

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