Nurses at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children's Hospital voted Thursday to reject a contract proposal and will issue a 10-day strike notice, a news release from the 2,400-member United Nurses & Allied Professionals Local 5098 said late Thursday.

 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Unionized nurses, therapists, technologists and other professionals at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children's Hospital voted Thursday to reject a contract proposal and will issue a 10-day strike notice, a news release from the 2,400-member United Nurses & Allied Professionals Local 5098 said late Thursday.

In the release, Frank Sims, a registered nurse and president of UNAP Local 5098, said he would seek an immediate return to the negotiating table with Lifespan, parent system of both hospitals, "so that a fair and equitable deal may be reached ahead of a potential strike."

Responding in a statement early Friday morning, Rhode Island Hospital said it was “disappointed” by the vote, and that the three-year contract proposal “included an extremely competitive wage and benefits package.”

The hospital said that a federal mediator “is working to bring both sides together.” And while the hospital “wants our nurses caring for our patients,” according to the statement, “in the event of a strike, the hospital is fully prepared to adequately staff our hospital and meet the needs of our patients.”

UNAP Local 5098 spokesman Ray Sullivan said union officials don't release vote totals, which they consider an internal matter, but he said the proposal was resoundingly rejected.

In the union release, local president Sims noted in the news release that "dedicated and frustrated" union members "rejected a deal that devalues the critical role they play in providing world-class healthcare at Rhode Island’s only Level I trauma hospital.

“Lifespan's short-sighted and punitive policies on everything from safe staffing to sick time have a direct correlation to the remarkably high turnover rate we experience at Rhode Island Hospital," Sims said. "Health professionals are leaving at unprecedented rates because Lifespan fails to give caregivers the tools we need to do our jobs and offers a compensation and benefit package that is not fair to all healthcare workers,” he said.

Rhode Island Hospital disputed those contentions, saying in its Friday statement that it “strongly believes the three-year contract proposal included an extremely competitive wage and benefits package, including pay increases for all UNAP members that ranged from 6.1 percent to 21.5 percent over the life of a three-year contract. The amount of the increases across union membership reflected a desire by the hospital and UNAP leadership to bring nurses with one to 10 years of employment at the hospital to top-of-market rates.

“Rhode Island Hospital strongly believes that the majority of our nurses’ salaries already meet or surpass salaries paid at other hospitals in the state. Furthermore, the hospital also hoped to implement a new bonus program for all UNAP-represented employees.”

In its statement, the hospital added that it “provides our nurses and technical staff with the resources needed to provide the best care possible to our patients. At no time during negotiations had the union leadership brought any concerns to the bargaining table.”

Sims had posted an explanation on the union website saying that a strike is not imminent unless members vote to give a 10-day strike notice. During that time, he wrote, negotiations would continue with the help of the federal mediator.

"Another vote would be taken before a strike actually happened," his explanation said.

The proposal would have given cost-of-living increases and step raises to members with up to 10 years on the job that would amount to a 21.15 percent increase over the three-year life of the contract.

Union members who have worked 15 years or longer would get step raises once every five years. Under the proposal that was rejected, a person with 15 years at Rhode Island Hospital making $46.10 would have been paid $47.02 upon signing of the contract, then $47.96 and finally $48.92, or a 6.1-percent increase, over the life of the contract.

A nurse with 40 years at Rhode Island Hospital who makes $54.34 now would have made $57.67 by the end of the contract.

Members have been working since June 30 without a contract. On the sweltering day before it expired, several hundred union members and supporters picketed outside Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s Hospitals. The Lifespan system, with $2.15 billion in annual operating revenues, is the largest in the state -- nearly twice the size in financial terms of the second-largest, Care New England, which is being acquired by the $3.4-billion Boston based Partners Healthcare.

A summary of the contract terms was posted on UNAP Local 5098's web page, www.unap.org/ri-hospital-contract-and-forms.