UVMMC support staff and hospital reach deal in contract negotiations

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 10:14 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After months of negotiations, the UVM Medical Center support staff and the hospital have finally come to a deal that union members are calling “historic.”

After 12 hours at the negotiating table Wednesday night, union leaders representing nearly 2,400 UVM Medical Center support staff said they reached an agreement with hospital management.

“I was prepared for a long night and about the time -- 3 a.m. -- I decided I was not going anywhere until we were done,” said Amber Robertson, one of the union negotiators.

“It was a historic night, it was. We had a lot of hope. But that’s what pulled us through,” added Harly Rodriguez, another union member.

The University of Vermont Medical Center has been in negotiations with support staff since May of this year. The contract raises the minimum wage for support staff to $20 per hour for the lowest-paid position, with an average increase of 22.22%

“Which is insane for a first contract. Certainly, among the highest that you’ll ever see in local union history,” said Jacob Berkowitz, a union member.

The agreement also includes a floating holiday that can be used for cultural and religious holidays. It also specifies that no union position can be laid off and outsourced. Support staff say the new contract has them breathing a sigh of relief and the benefits of increasing wages will be far-reaching. “Not just for our own personal wellbeing but for the safety and wellbeing of our patients, because if we are not able to focus on our jobs because we’re worried about paying our bills, we’re not taking care of our patients,” Robertson said.

While the union is touting the agreement as a win, there were some things they couldn’t get. “A lot of our workers were very concerned that with the boosted wages, a lot of them would lose their Medicaid. We wanted to ensure that there could be any change to health care. Unfortunately, the administration wouldn’t budge on that,” Berkowitz said.

“There’s a lot of issues that we still have to fight for with diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hospital, and even health insurance is a big thing, and we’re still gonna push for it,” added Rodriguez.

“We definitely didn’t get everything we wanted, but it was definitely, it was a historic first contract,” Berkowitz said.

The tentative agreement will be ratified by the union in the next few weeks.

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