The University of Vermont Medical Center and its nurses' union can agree on one thing — patients should still feel comfortable entering the hospital amidst a nursing strike planned for Thursday and Friday. The union and hospital still do not agree on nursing wages and were scheduled to engage in a last-ditch bargaining session Wednesday afternoon.
If the two sides do not reach a resolution, union members and supporters will rally and then picket starting at 6 a.m. Thursday on public property surrounding the main hospital. More demonstrations are expected at the hospital's other campuses, including Fanny Allen in Colchester, Essex Adult Primary Care and a dialysis center in St. Albans.
The hospital and the nurses’ union have both stressed that picketers outside the hospital want to raise awareness for the union and will not prevent patients or healthcare providers from entering the hospital. No entrances to hospitals or hospital parking lots will be blocked by picketers, and patients can expect to attend appointments without fear of harassment.
“We would never interfere with patients or patient care in any way,” said Samira Lawson, a UVM Medical Center registered nurse and member of the union’s bargaining committee. “Our goal is for patients to feel safe and feel like they can come to the hospital.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Dawn LeBaron, vice president of hospital services, said the medical center is focused on ensuring patients and staff feel comfortable and safe receiving and giving care during the strike.
Nearly 600 temporary nurses have undergone two days of training in preparation for the strike. The hospital has rescheduled 68 non-urgent surgeries, but said it will continue to operate the emergency room and receive patients in outpatient clinics as normal.
Negotiations on Tuesday, which began at 4 p.m., failed to stop the strike. Daniel Luttrell, a registered nurse and member of the nurses' bargaining team, said the two sides took a caucus at 7 p.m. The union asked the hospital to regroup at 8 p.m., but instead received an email from hospital management at 8:20 p.m. informing them that the hospital’s team would not return to the table for the evening. The email stated that hospital management was disappointed with the union for making very little movement in negotiations, according to Luttrell.
The hospital released a statement Tuesday night saying it remains committed to reaching a fair agreement.
The hospital is currently proposing a 13 percent wage increase across three years, including annual 2 percent step increases nurses receive as they work their way up the pay ladder. Nurses at the top of their pay scale would receive 7 percent increases across three years.
The union is asking for 23 percent wage increases across three years, including the 2 percent steps. Nurses at the top of their pay scale would receive a 17 percent increase over three years under the union’s plan.