As contract negotiations continue between University of Iowa health care workers and the state Board of Regents, both groups are optimistic about the collective bargaining process.
Following the regents and Service Employees International Union 199’s initial collective bargaining conversations in January, the two groups met again in a closed meeting on Feb. 10.
SEIU 199’s Communications Staff Consultant Jim McNeil said in a prepared statement sent to The Daily Iowan that these negotiations are integral to enabling frontline employees and managers to work jointly on solutions at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
“This is arguably the most important bargaining session yet in the talks between UIHC’s 4,000 RNs and professional staff and the Iowa Board of Regents,” he said. “…The hospital administration has expressed interest in the proposal, but their initial contract offer included no language on the union’s partnership plan.”
As the DI previously reported, the union initially asked for a five percent raise per year in its two-year contract, while the board proposed a one percent raise.
Following the closed-door bargaining session on Feb. 10, Michele Whaylen, a physician assistant at UIHC and a former critical care nurse said the process is encouraging and the discussion of partnership is being advocated for on both sides of contract negotiations.
“We have really been talking about a partnership with the hospital and developing a more robust partnership,” she said. “We’ve spent time in the last few sessions talking about that partnership, what it might look like, and trying to get some collaboration. The meeting felt hopeful, that we might be able to have a partnership with meaning.”
Whaylen joined SEIU 199 five years ago, she said, but this is her first time helping with the collective bargaining process with the regents.
She said she is hopeful that the board and the union will come to an agreement that appeases the regents and the nearly 4,000 caregivers SEIU 199 represents.
“I really felt that the board was hearing us,” she said. “They really responded empathetically to what [caregivers] have been going through and why we want this proposal and partnership and why it means what it does to us. They gave us an opportunity to express that and it went well.”
McNeil said the union’s proposal would address staff turnover UIHC has seen in recent years and the non-competitive pay caregivers receive.
“UIHC, which is a state-owned facility, has the resources to invest in safeguarding care,” McNeil said in the statement. “Despite the pandemic, UIHC ended fiscal year 2020 with $14 million more in operating income than projected. The State of Iowa closed out FY 2020 with a $305 million budget surplus and $770 million in its rainy-day fund.”
Regent Communications Director Josh Lehman said in an email to the DI that negotiations are continuing as planned.
“Negotiations are continuing for a successor agreement for 2021-23,” he said. “If a tentative agreement is reached, it will be voted on publicly by the board at a future meeting.”
There are no future dates for meetings between the union and the board, the two are set to continue meetings until a contract is reached.
Whaylen said she looks forward to future meetings and is hopeful that the two will come to a joint contract agreement soon.
“We’re going to continue to develop this conversation about collaboration and the elements of that,” she said. “We are prepared to give [the board] some documents on what that looks like so that we can have a better understanding and make sure that we’re all talking the same language at the table and continue to move forward.”