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Hospital, union reach contract agreement

June 30, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

After a marathon, 18-hour negotiating session, a tentative contract agreement was reached Tuesday morning between Chambersburg Hospital and the union representing more than 1,200 of its approximately 1,500 employees.

The agreement was reached at 7 a.m. after a negotiating session between the hospital and members of District 1199P of the Service Employees International Union that began at 1 p.m. Monday, according to a hospital statement. It was the last scheduled negotiating session prior to the expiration of the old four-year contract at midnight tonight.

"We will recommend they ratify the contract and we did rescind the strike notice," said Teresa Fox, a physical therapy assistant and president of the local union. Union members voted June 15 to strike if a contract agreement was not reached by midnight tonight.

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"It was the best we could get for our staff. We knew we weren't going to get everything we wanted," Fox said.

The union will present the tentative contract to its membership today at 7 a.m. and at 1, 4 and 7 p.m., with groups going to the Hampton Inn to vote, according to Jim Fox, an administrative organizer for the union.

"The hospital is delighted that a new agreement has been reached. We believe it represents a good and fair contract, and we remain confident it will be ratified by the general membership," the hospital statement said. The statement went on to say that no details of the contract will be discussed until the rank and file votes to approve the contract.

Fox described the negotiations Monday and Tuesday as stressful and boring. Each side made proposals to the other and then held caucuses to decide whether to accept or reject the proposals.

The main issues were health care, pensions, mandatory overtime, staffing and wages, Fox said. Union members also are being advised not to discuss details of the contract until after the vote, she said.

"We're not real happy with the pension plan because we have a lot of people in their 50s, particularly nurses," she said. Last week, nurse Jan Green said the union was asking for full retirement at age 55.

On Monday night, William Flannery, the hospital's chief negotiator, said the hospital offered a change in one aspect of the pension plan, but that no other concessions would be made.

Fox said language was inserted in the contract that she hopes will reduce the amount of mandatory overtime many employees have to work.

She described the settlement over health-care coverage as "about the best we could do considering the way the world is going."

The hospital proposed higher co-payments and deductibles for employees to avoid a potential increase of $4.8 million in insurance premiums for the unionized workers.

"None of the workers wanted a strike. It's hard for a lot of people to afford that," Fox said.

The union did go on strike for three weeks in 1979.

"The main thing is the patients and the quality of care they receive ... and I think the hospital feels that way," she said.

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