In a brief statement released Monday, Rochester General Hospital announced that it is calling in a federal mediator to assist in its ongoing talks with the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals.
In that time, the hospital says, the parties have had 12 bargaining sessions.
Jennifer Eslinger, Rochester Regional Health’s chief operating officer, explains in the statement that management hopes a federal mediator will “focus everyone’s energies on trying to reach an agreement rather than talking about a strike or other activities that could harm these stakeholders and negatively impact patient care.”
RUNAP organizer Nate Miller finds himself somewhat flummoxed by the hospital’s announcement but says the union will readily agree to bringing a federal mediator in. RUNAP itself previously communicated with a federal mediator, he adds.
In some seven months, says Eslinger, “we have made progress on several topics and are pleased to have reached seven tentative agreements with RUNAP (but) so far, we are still very far apart on topics such as wages and staffing grids.”
For the union, says Miller, the critical issue is improving patient care at RGH and staffing is the key to achieving that goal. However, he maintains, RGH management has not meaningfully engaged with the union on staffing.
“Our priority bottom line is that nurses can go into work and properly care for patients,” Miller says. “Wages are secondary.”
RUNAP’s’s wage proposal, made in 2022, calls for pay on par with what Buffalo General nurses were paid at that time, Miller says. The RUNAP proposal still stands though Buffalo General has since upped its nurses pay.
At RGH, says Miller, nurse-to-patient ratios remain significantly higher than Buffalo General’s or Upstate Medical Center’s in Syracuse. Both the Syracuse and Buffalo hospitals are unionized.
According to Miller, RUNAP has made a comprehensive staffing proposal whose terms are comparable to staffing regimens at Buffalo General and Upstate Medical Center. But RGH has so far not seriously engaged with its nurses on the staffing proposal.
Instead, says Miller, RGH submitted a lengthy dress-code proposal that would require nurses to wear white uniforms, a standard that has long been abandoned by virtually all U.S. hospitals.
Miller accuses RGH of failing to comply with a state mandate requiring monthly meetings with frontline staff. RGH has held no such meetings in the past 12 months. An RGH proposal to hold monthly non-binding talks with four nurses, is one RUNAP sees as a toothless non-concession.
RUNAP members remain committed and willing to talk, Miller says, but if management remains recalcitrant, a strike would not be out of the question.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].