Hospital workers at Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge will have an informational picket on Tuesday as contract negotiations continue.
The picket, meant to educate staff and the community, is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 7, at Methodist Medical Center, which is at 990 Oak Ridge Oak Ridge Turnpike, a press release said.
Nurses and support staff, along with their allies in the community, will attend, the press release said.
Service Employees International Union Local 205 represents more than 800 registered nurses and service and technical employees at MMC, a Covenant Health facility in Oak Ridge. In a Monday press release, the SEIU said the hospital workers have been working under a three-year contract that is set to expire on November 15.
“Last week, union members voted overwhelmingly to authorize their bargaining committee to issue the hospital a notice of intent to strike if an agreement cannot be reached,” the press release said. “Issues which are in dispute are maintaining safe staffing levels and reasonable working hours, Methodist’s plan to slash wages for new employees, and affordable health insurance on par with other Covenant facilities.”
The union rallied in front of the hospital during a heavy rain on Sunday, October 8, to protest the state of the negotiations. The rally included about 150 people, and the crowd stretched over a block, according to a press release the day of the rally.
At that time, SEIU Local 205 President and Chief Negotiator Brad Rayson said the union and hospital had been negotiating for more than a month and progress was slow. The turnout and high energy at the October 8 rally showed the commitment that hospital workers have for a fair contract for all MMC workers, Rayson said. The workers called attention to safe staffing ratios, mandatory overtime, and their own health care, the press release said.
The three-year contract was set to expire that Tuesday, October 10, but a 35-day extension was announced the day the contract expired. The extension lasts through November 15.
“There (are) still a number of key issues on the table, and this extension will give both sides time to hopefully work through our differences and find common ground,” registered nurse Shanella Hawkins said in a second press release on Tuesday, October 10. “Our goal still is and always has been to reach an agreement that is good for patients, the community, and our members.”
That second press release said the parties have been using a federal mediator to help with contract talks.
In October, union members said they were united and determined. They also said they have received great community support.
“We are committed to establishing quality jobs within this community,” said Melissa Wells, RN chief steward. “We believe our patients deserve the highest level of care possible. Because of this, we are fighting to establish safe staffing standards.”
That same week, MMC said the hospital and SEIU Local 205 were continuing respectful but difficult negotiations on a new three-year contract that covers 807 employees, with 320 of them registered nurses.
“There are several issues that have not been resolved at this point, but our goal remains to reach an agreement,” MMC spokesperson Crystal Jordan said in a statement at the time. “Since we are still in active negotiations, it would be premature to discuss specific issues.”
The current contract has been in effect since June 5, 2014.
“Methodist is not immune to the financial challenges that many other hospitals in Tennessee and across the nation have faced,” the MMC statement said. “We are working in earnest to negotiate a contract that rewards a staff of dedicated professionals and invests for the future of this hospital and the community.”
SEIU has represented workers at MMC since 1966.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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