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Union approves four-year contract with Chambersburg Hospital

July 11, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Union members at Chambersburg Hospital overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract that representatives for both sides said achieved their primary goals - preserving the employee pensions and restructuring the pension plan to save the hospital millions of dollars over the next 20 to 30 years.

During voting Thursday at the Franklin Fire Hall, 97 percent of the employees who cast ballots voted to ratify the new agreement, said Margaret Durand, a nurse and member of the union negotiating committee. About 1,300 hospital employees - nurses, technicians, therapists, service and maintenance personnel - are represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

Hospital officials and the negotiating committee reached a tentative agreement at about midnight Wednesday after a negotiating session that began at about 1 p.m., SEIU Vice President Stephanie Haynes said.

"We kept our pension and we kept everyone in it," Haynes said.

"We feel we accomplished our primary goal, while at the same time being fair to our employees," said attorney William Flannery, the hospital's chief negotiator. That goal was "to get control of those spiraling (pension) costs," he said.

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The contract also gives the employees pay increases of 4 percent in each of the first two years and 5 percent in each of the final two years. The contract also maintains an affordable health care and prescription medicine plan, according to the union.

"It was hard, but it was worth it," Nancy Stoner, a respiratory care assistant, said of the negotiations. "A strike wasn't something we really wanted to do."

Last week, the members voted to authorize a five-day strike to begin July 17. The previous contract with the hospital expired July 1.

The main sticking point in negotiations was changes in the pension plan from a traditional defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, union members said.

Flannery said the defined benefit plan takes into account an employee's age and years of service and, through a formula, determines a guaranteed benefit. In a defined contribution plan, the employer makes a contribution, but what the benefit will be upon retirement is not guaranteed, he said.

Union representatives said the hospital wanted to move many current employees and new hires into a defined contribution plan.

What the two sides settled on was a cash balance plan, Flannery said. It largely guarantees the retirement benefit, part of which is determined by each employee's contribution to their own 403B savings plan, he said.

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