New union contract means wage increase, elimination of professional standards

The newly ratified contract will give all caregivers at the hospital a wage increase, but also eliminates many standard policies mentioned in the previously ratified contract.

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New union contract means wage increase, elimination of professional standards

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as seen on Sept 17, 2018.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as seen on Sept 17, 2018.

Katie Goodale

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as seen on Sept 17, 2018.

Katie Goodale

Katie Goodale

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as seen on Sept 17, 2018.

Josie Fischels, News Reporter

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University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics caregivers voted to ratify a new union contract on March 7. The  step means increased wages for current workers, but it does not address maintaining professional standards between UIHC and the caregivers who work there.

The agreement was approved by 92.9 percent of caregivers, nearly all of whom also signed up to participate in the Service Employees International Union’s continuing campaign to protect patient care.

The agreement includes a 2.1 percent raise for all caregivers in 2019 and 2020. However, because of changes in labor laws in 2017, the contract does not address professional standards between UIHC and its caregivers, such as vacation and grievance policies, said Gillian McVicar, a medical lab scientist at UIHC.

Contract negotiations are only required to include wages. All other topics must be agreed upon by both parties involved in the negotation.

“Because of the law that was passed in 2017, they weren’t going to talk about it because they weren’t required to,” she said.

The new contract is three pages long — 53 pages shorter than the previous contract — and covers only workers’ pay. The agreement replaces a previous contract that was never voted into place by the state Board of Regents,  staff nurse Melinda Myers said.

“Even though we ratified a contract that gives everybody a 2.1 [percent] wage increase each year for two years, there are so many other things that are gone now,” she said.

Instead of relying on a contract, many of the agreed standards from the 2017 contract are written in the Employee Handbook. However, McVicar said a disclaimer at the beginning of the handbook says anything written in the handbook can be changed at will without approval from the union.

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“It isn’t binding,” she said. “They do change it, they have changed it. It’s more like a guideline.”

Myers said this is the first contract caregivers at the hospital have bargained since the 2017 law was passed. The union contract has been both ratified and approved by the state Board of Regents.

“The Board of Regents is pleased that we were able to come to a voluntary agreement with SEIU,” said regent senior communications director Josh Lehman in a statement to The Daily Iowan.

McVicar said there is still much to do. At the March 7 ratification vote, caregivers launched a “2.1 and We’re Not Done” campaign, which details how hospital staffers wish to continue following contract discussions.

The campaign includes fighting to implement a stronger employee-retention plan and reversing certain policy changes that staffers find unfair, including UIHC’s controversial sick-day policy.

“Nurses are being reprimanded for using their sick time,” McVicar said. “If they use two days of sick time in a three-month period, they’re getting written up. People are coming to work sick because they fear being written up.”

Myers emphasized that there is a lack of transparency between the administration and its staff. Giving caregivers a voice in the decisions made in the hospital is her primary goal.

“We have a lot of input, and it’s not being listened to,” Myers said. “We’re going to keep talking. We’re going to keep expressing our views. We’re going keep the hospital held responsible for retaining and recruiting staff and making our workplace a respectful one.”