RELEASE: Caregivers Holding Valentine’s Day Actions at Univ. of Iowa Hospital in Final Push to Protect Care

With contract talks in crisis, UIHC caregivers hold press conference today at NOON, then will deliver hundreds of Valentines to CEO 

Actions follow snowstorm fiasco: UIHC administration left caregivers in cold when shifts were over; viral Facebook post about it has reached 65,000 

* * * MEDIA EVENTS ON VALENTINE’S DAY OF ACTION * * *

PRESS CONFERENCE – Members of the UIHC union bargaining team Dan Dietzel, RN, and Coen Olson, a medical lab scientist, as well as SEIU Local 199 President Cathy Glasson will talk about the crisis in negotiations as endgame approaches.

WHEN: Thur., Feb. 14, NOON – 12:15 p.m.

WHERE: In front of UIHC main building, 200 Hawkins Dr., Iowa City, IA

VALENTINE’S CARD DELIVERY TO THE CEO – Immediately after the press conference, caregivers will go to the UIHC Administrative Offices to deliver hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards to CEO Suresh Gunasekaran urging him to reach a fair contract.

WHEN: Thur., Feb. 14, Estimated Start: 12:15 p.m.

WHERE: UIHC Administrative Offices, Colloton Pavilion at UIHC; click here for map.

ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS with UIHC caregivers will be held immediately after the Valentine’s Card delivery by the UIHC main entrance. (Estimated start: 12:25 p.m.)

IOWA CITY — Caregivers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) are holding a Valentine’s Day of Action in a final push to protect care at the state’s flagship hospital.

Contract talks between the Iowa Regents, who oversee UIHC, and the hospital’s 3,800 RNs and healthcare professionals are in crisis. The Regents’ latest offer would wipe away the caregivers’ previous contract and fail to close the pay gap that leaves UIHC nurses far below the nation’s median pay for RNs. It is likely the Regents will try to impose their offer on Tuesday, Feb. 19, when bargaining resumes.

The UIHC caregivers, who are united in SEIU Local 199, are holding their Day of Action just after the administration’s failed response to this week’s snowstorm. Caregivers braved the storm to get to the hospital, parking in lots as far as a mile away. But when their shifts were over, the administration left them stranded without buses or vans to get them back to their cars.

A Facebook post about the fiasco has gone viral, reaching more than 65,000 people as of 4 a.m. on Thursday. (The Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote a story about it here; to see the original Facebook post, click here.) It has provoked wrenching comments from UIHC employees, not just on difficulties they encountered during the snowstorm but on serious day-to-day problems at the hospital.

Thursday’s Day of Action continues an intense campaign for a fair contract that maintains the world-class care UIHC provides. In bargaining that began in late November, the hospital employees have sought to repair the damage caused by a series of demoralizing policy changes the administration has imposed. Some of the punitive measures include:

Self-Defeating Sick Leave Policy – In a true Catch-22, UIHC management has imposed a sick leave policy that threatens caregivers with discipline if they exceed a small number of sick days. But they’re also being threatened with discipline if they show up to work sick. The policy is a solution in search of a problem. In fiscal year 2016, before the policy was implemented, employees averaged only 3.72 days of sick leave a year. In 2018, that number dropped by just 0.12 days to 3.60 days a year. (These and all UIHC statistics in this advisory are drawn from data provided by the hospital during negotiations.)

Sneak Attack on Overtime Pay – In recent years the hospital had grown reliant on employees working substantial overtime to fill staffing holes. Employees in turn had grown reliant on that extra income. But recently, and suddenly, the hospital changed the way it calculates overtime so that employees working virtually the same schedules no longer get overtime pay. As a result, UIHC caregivers’ total overtime pay dropped from $7,674,349 in fiscal year 2016 to just $1,719,592 in fiscal year 2018. That’s been a brutal blow for many caregivers. Coen Olson, a medical lab scientist and author of a Cedar Rapids Gazette op-ed about the “quiet crisis” at UIHC, got a second job making pizza to make up for his lost income.

UIHC’s nurses and healthcare professionals are deeply worried that the further loss of experienced staff could compromise patient care. UIHC’s own data suggests that the administration’s attack on caregivers could be leading to a greater reliance on temp workers:

Alarming Increase in Agency Nurses – The use of agency nurses at UIHC jumped 32 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. Agency nurses are temporary nurses hired on contract to fill staffing holes in units. Maintaining continuity of care with agency nurses can be challenging because they — unlike permanent, experienced RNs — often lack familiarity with a unit’s procedures. Troublingly, UIHC’s use of agency nurses jumped from 42,301 contracted days in fiscal year 2017 to 55,959 days in fiscal year 2018.

Much of the turmoil at UIHC stems from a controversial move two years ago by the Iowa Regents. In 2017, the Regents negotiated a contract with the caregivers that was set to go into effect that July. But they refused to honor the agreement, claiming they were empowered by a controversial 2017 law attacking public-employee bargaining rights. (The Iowa Supreme Court may soon rule on the legality of the Regents’ move, and a finding against them could be a boon for the caregivers.)

The absence of a union contract at UIHC is what has led to the imposition of so many demoralizing policies at the hospital. That’s why UIHC caregivers believe that re-establishing a full and fair contract is so important to restore morale, stabilize staffing and protect patient care. The caregivers seek a contract that will:

Re-establish professional standards achieved in union contracts negotiated over two decades at UIHC. The administration replaced the contract with a handbook saying, “the procedures, practices, policies, and benefits described here may be modified or discontinued” at any time. That’s hardly professional.

Boost substandard pay. Though UIHC consistently ranks among the nation’s best hospitals, its RNs make 13 percent less than the nation’s median RN wage. The caregivers are seeking raises that would close that gap.

Unfortunately, the Regents’ latest contract offer, submitted last month, includes raises of just 1 percent a year over the next two years for the majority of job classifications. The highest raise, for some nurses, is just 2.7 percent the first year and even less than that the second year. It badly fails to make up the 13 percent difference with the median pay of RNs elsewhere in the United States.

SEIU Local 199 represents 5,000 healthcare and public service workers across Iowa. It is an affiliate of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union. SEIU’s Healthcare Division includes 1 million nurses, lab techs, environmental service workers and other vital staff who serve 60 million patients and clients.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Jim McNeill, Cell 202-213-1614, jim.mcneill@seiuiowa.org

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