Burlington, VT– There’s an effort to avoid labor troubles at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The hospital and its support staff union are negotiating a new contract. After several months, that session is coming to an end.

UVMMC and its support staff union are preparing to enter the final round of contract bargaining next week. The group had its second to last meeting with hospital administration Wednesday night, but gathered in front of the hospital Thursday to voice some concerns they still have.

2,300 support staff at UVMMC are calling for livable wages and better working conditions. Support Staff United voted to unionize back in January and have been renegotiating their contracts since May.

“We refuse to continue to labor every day for less than a livable wage, we refuse to continue to labor in unsafe conditions, unsafe for us, unsafe for our patients, and unsafe for our community,” says Heather Bauman, a member of the support staff union, and a phlebotomist at the hospital.

The group wants a minimum starting wage of at least $20 an hour, and what they say are safer working conditions. Bauman notes support staff are not afforded the opportunity to be able to pay for the same health care the hospital provides.

A statement from Deb Snell, the President of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, was read by a UVMMC nurse, saying the work of support staff have been “overlooked by our administration, but not by our nurses, technical professionals, or patients.”

“These workers are not asking for the pie in the sky, they’re asking for wages that will provide food, clothing, and shelter for their families, a chance to help pay for their kids college, a chance to not have to work two to three jobs to help pay the bills,” the statement went on to read.

State Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale is backing the union. As a new mother, she says she was recently a patient at the hospital.

“The most important people to make sure that I did not get an infection were first the environmental services staff, then second, the LNA’s. They were constantly checking on me to make sure that I was safe, and my baby was safe,” says Sen. Ram Hinsdale. “They deserve more than my words of praise; they deserve me standing here fighting for them to have access to a fair wage and the quality conditions that they need.”

The hospital says it’s committed to getting a deal done. A statement from administration reads:

“The University of Vermont Medical Center is committed to a culture where our people feel heard, respected, and supported. As the region’s Level 1 Trauma Center and academic medical center, every single one of our employees is central to delivering exceptional patient care. We’re committed to reaching agreement on a completed contract as quickly as possible and believe our current wage proposal demonstrates that.

The hospital’s current proposal includes an average immediate increase for our Support Staff of 23.39%, with another 4% increase in October 2024 and 3% increase in October 2025, for a total average percentage pay increase of over 30% in next two years. One year from now, in October 2024, every bargaining unit position will earn at least $20 an hour. Our current wage proposal represents an additional investment of nearly $25 million in base wages – or approximately $10,000 per person – and this does not include any potential changes to differentials, incentive pay or tuition assistance.

The union hopes a deal can be reached.

“We hope that next week we are able to walk away from the table having negotiated an amazing agreement that affords my colleagues a little more. It won’t be everything, it won’t be perfect, but it’s going to be a massive step in the right direction, and we won’t stop until we get there,” says Bauman.

The final bargaining meeting is on September 20th.