Clock ticking down on negotiations between nurses, UVM Medical Center

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) UVM Medical Center nurses and the hospital administration failed to reach a contract agreement Tuesday. They will resume negotiating Wednesday afternoon, in the hopes of reaching a deal before a planned two day strike starting Thursday.

Medical center officials Tuesday said they were making progress.

"I think we had some encouraging conversation last night," said Eileen Whalen of the UVM Medical Center.

But not everyone agrees.

"It was very upsetting to hear some of the things she was saying, especially about progress being made at the table last night because there was no progress made. The hospital has not changed their economic proposal in the last two weeks," said Deb Snell of the Vermont Federal of Nurses and Health Professionals.

The hospital has offered a 13 percent pay increase over a three-year contract. This would bring average inpatient nurse pay to around $84,000 per year.

The nurses union originally asked for a 24 percent increase in that same time period. Now, they want 9 percent over a one-year period with a 2 percent step increase.

"Regardless of what she says, this hospital has the money to do a one-year deal, give us the 11 percent total that we're asking for up front," Snell said.

Reporter Avery Powell Any reaction to the nurses union changing their ask?
Eileen Whalen: We are excited to get back to the table this afternoon and continue that dialogue.

The medical center plans to bring in nearly 600 replacement nurses over the planned two-day strike. Those nurses are already in Burlington and the hospital has spent some of the money for the planned strike, but are still counting expenses.

"Until we know if there's a strike or we know what the end of this week looks like, it's difficult to say the exact amount but it will be very costly," Whalen said.

Leaders with the nurses union insist that this pay raise will help to attract and retain more nurses. Medical center administrators say their nursing turnover rate is in line with other academic medical centers.

"If we don't have a decent number up front, we're not going to be able to attract nurses to this hospital and that's what it has been about all along, to get nurses here to care for our patients," Snell said.

But the hospital says if a strike occurs, patients will hardly see an effect; 68 elective procedures have been postponed with most being rescheduled within the next month.

The hospital also says the picket line should have little disruption to patients.

The nurses union says they will also meet with the hospital's chief nursing officer to discuss the logistics of the potential strike.