Contract Extended for Methodist Medical Center Unionized Workers

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Nurses and other union employees at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge are on the job working without a new contract. The present contract was due to end at midnight Tuesday night, but has been extended for 24 more hours.

Volunteer TV's Gary Loe has the latest.

Contract negotiators left the bargaining table Tuesday night agreeing to extend the nurse's union contract while negotiations continue Wednesday. Bargaining began four weeks ago, and Tuesday, a tentative agreement may not be in sight.

This is a familiar site during contract talks. The nurse's union negotiators carrying their latest contract proposal to the bargaining table. Management is offering two percent raises for each year of a three year deal while increasing health insurance costs by 35 percent. Management also calls for a proposal to break up team nursing, which is the nursing model now used at Methodist Medical Center to keep the nurse to patient ratio low.

"We're into economic issues, as well as non economics," SEIU Chief Negotiator Doug Collier said.

The union's chief negotiator won't release his proposal details, but says bargainers are making progress. Methodist Medical Center officials say in a written statement: "There are several issues that have not been resolved at this point, but we remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached that continues to support a high quality work force. We are proposing an economic package that is competitive with other Knoxville are hospitals' compensation and benefits plans."

Meantime, the roughly 1,100 union members remain on the job at the Oak Ridge hospital hoping for a fair settlement.

"Better wages for the insurance. We're going to lose some now just from what we've heard. They're going up quite a bit on insurance," hospital LPN Judy Byrum said.

"They expect a lot more of us than they used to, and I feel we should benefit as well as management should benefit," nurse Melody Hazel said.

Union authorities assess their progress as contract negotiations end for another day.

"We're still talking, and negotiations are still ongoing. They're making some progress, albeit slow at this time," Collier said.

The nurses' union's present contract remains in effect, but if this round of negotiations fails, the union would have to issue a ten day notice of their intent to strike before going on strike, and that has not happened.