Burlington, VT — The University of Vermont Medical Center and the union representing hospital nurses have failed to reach an agreement on wage increases and a contract extension. The UVM Medical Center leadership had offered nurses a ten percent wage increase if the union agreed to sign by today.

Current contracts for nurses are not set to expire until July 2022 but hospital leadership wanted to get on the same page now, perhaps trying to avoid a lengthy impasse similar to what we saw last time nurses were up for a new deal.

Earlier this week, the UVM Medical Center leadership invited the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals to the bargaining table 7 months in advance. The hospital’s president, Dr. Stephen Leffler, had hoped two days of voluntary discussions on a ten percent wage increase would end in union leaders signing the dotted line on a contract extension.

“It was a way to try to give us some predictability in finances and a way to get money into our staff’s pockets sooner than would normally happen with a normal contract timeline,” said Dr. Leffler.

Had the union agreed, the raises would have kicked in next month. If both sides remain divided until July when the nurses’ current contract ends, pay hikes would be put off until October. The extension would have carried that contract through July 2024 but union leaders said the money wasn’t worth giving up time to bargain for other chances.

“We need a real proposal to be put on the table to actually be able to recruit and retain staff here,” said Sarah Ferguson, RN, VP of organizing with VFNHP. “Nurses, techs, we have some techs in our bargaining unit that are making $17 an hour, like they’re not making a livable wage.”

Dr. Leffler said discussions about pay are often the biggest hurdle in these talks, so leadership wanted to get that squared away first and hammer out other details next month. “We agreed, we would bargain on other issues, we’d be happy to that. We agreed to further conversations about anything in the contract during that time to try and make sure their voices were heard. We think this is important to work on, we want to partner with them.”

But nurses felt it was an unnecessarily rushed timeline for a process that often takes weeks to prepare for, and months to complete.

“Saying we’ll give you wages that still don’t get people to a livable wage and address the discrepancy between the pay and the cost of living but also we’re going to take away your right to bargain the rest of the contract,” said Ferguson.

“It’s not just about wages, it’s all encompassing and there’s a lot of other issues that we need to work on and we need to discuss.”