Monterey County Herald: SVMH, workers reach tentative pact

NewsJanuary 18, 2012

by Larry Parsons
Montery County Herald

Union to vote Thursday on deal through August 2013

A yearlong contract dispute between about 750 service and technical workers and Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System appears to be almost over.

Both the Salinas hospital and the National Union of Healthcare Workers — the union that represents the largest number of the hospital’s workers — announced Tuesday that negotiators had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

Workers will vote Thursday whether to ratify the contract that would run until August 2013. Their negotiators are unanimously recommending approval of the pact.

The hospital board of directors would then decide whether to ratify the proposal. The tentative agreement was reached after a 10-hour negotiating session Monday, union officials said.

Both sides refused Tuesday to discuss details of the pending deal, saying that won’t happen until both sides approve it.

“We really don’t want to get into it,” said John Borsos, union vice president.

“The bargaining team is unanimously recommending it, and people are happy about the agreement,” Borsos said.

Union representatives credited Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, his district director, Salinas City Councilman Sergio Sanchez, and the state mediation service with helping to bring the drawn-out negotiations to the point of resolution.

“The interest and motivation from Assemblyman Alejo was pretty instrumental in this,” Borsos said.

Hospital spokeswoman Adrienne Laurent confirmed there was a tentative agreement, but withheld additional comment.

Both sides indicated relief that the lengthy dispute was nearly ended. “There was a feeling on our side and on the hospital’s side to see if now was the right time to bring it to a conclusion,” Borsos said.

The dispute was marked by a one-day strike and threats of more walkouts, and the hospital’s announcement of its “last, best and final” offer for a two-year contract with a one-year wage freeze followed by a 1.5 percent pay increase and employee contributions to health insurance premiums.

Borsos said the major hurdles during negotiations were “a number of takeaways” proposed by the hospital on wages and benefits.

The hospital workers voted to switch to the National Union of Healthcare Workers in May 2010, and the union was certified to represent the bargaining unit about five months later.

“We have been in bargaining since then,” said union spokesman Leighton Woodhouse.

The union represents a wide range of hospital employees, from clerical workers and housekeepers to technicians and nurse’s aides.

Last month, the hospital’s 600-plus registered nurses agreed to defer scheduled pay raises for a year and to make other concessions to save the hospital nearly $2 million.