Julie MacMillan at a press conference held by the nurses last week
University of Vermont Medical Center nurses moved a step closer toward a possible work stoppage when 500 union members voted almost unanimously Wednesday night in favor of holding a formal strike vote, according to Julie MacMillan, a registered nurse and the union's lead negotiator.
Nurses will vote on June 10, 11 and 12 about whether to initiate a two-day strike once the current three-year union contract ends on July 9. If a majority of members want to walk out, the union would serve the hospital a 10-day strike notice on June 29.
MacMillan said the 1,800-member union is working to nail down more bargaining dates with the hospital in the hopes of reaching a resolution before a strike. Wednesday's vote gives the bargaining committee further proof its membership is serious about its demands, she said.
The bargaining team met with the hospital three times last week, but the sides were unable to come to an agreement. The union claims that nurses and ancillary workers are underpaid, leading to understaffing and worse patient care. MacMillan expressed discontent that the hospital invested in a video monitoring system for patients that require constant monitoring instead of investing in wages for staff members who could better care for patients.
“We are very discouraged that the hospital has not responded to our very serious safety concerns,” said MacMillan.
She said the nurses are further discouraged that the hospital has begun recruiting “scab” nurses — temporary staff to fill positions in the event of a strike — rather than engaging with the nurses' demands.
In an email to Seven Days, Annie Mackin, communications strategist for UVM Medical Center, confirmed that the hospital is "engaged in a planning process" in the event of a work stoppage, but she declined to share further details.
Mackin said the hospital still has more than enough time to reach an agreement with the nurses and said that it is committed to negotiating in good faith until a fair contract is reached. She said the hospital hopes the nurses will agree to work through a mediator as mediation has brought about successful resolutions in past years.