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Greenfield hospital, nurses to create overtime task force

In the first negotiation session since the nurses’ Oct. 5 one-day strike, members of the bargaining unit said they put forward a new solution Thursday — the creation of a task force that would investigate the roots of the overtime problem.

According to the hospital, about 3.2 percent of all the hours the nurses work occurs as overtime — hours that extend beyond their regular scheduled eight- or 12-hour shifts.

And although that number was higher last year — 4 percent of all hours, according to the hospital — nurses have said that overtime can cause them great strain, sometimes forcing them work up to 16 hours in a day.

The task force — as detailed in a contract side letter presented by the union to the hospital — would examine scheduling data to find trends and patterns related to overtime requests. It would then, within six months, make recommendations to the hospital on ways to decrease the need for overtime.

Hospital officials liked the idea, but said the conversation stopped when they submitted a counter-proposal back to the union which tightened the language of the side letter.

In particular, administrators want to have the final say on the recommendations and not be bound to follow them if they are not fiscally viable, said Kerry Damon, the hospital’s director of human resources.

“We were hoping to have a counter back from them, but they took it more like an outright rejection of their proposal, which wasn’t our intent,” she said.

Even with talk of the task force, the two sides didn’t budge from their proposals for overtime pay.

Hospital officials, citing a need to find cost-savings measures, want the overtime pay to only kick in when the nurses work their 41st hour in a week. Overtime costs the hospital $180,000 and the health system $1.8 million each year.

Nurses, a majority of whom work 32 or 36 hours each week, want overtime pay to stay the way it is now — time and-a-half for every hour worked beyond the regular scheduled shift.

They added that daily overtime pay is essential to keep the hospital accountable for its procedures. They argued that if the hospital wants to save money, it should find ways to reduce a need for overtime instead of cutting the pay altogether.

Administrators proposed a bonus pay during critical overtime periods, but the union has dismissed this offer — saying that it is such a small amount of money that it will not make up for the extra hours they would be working.

One thing both sides can agree on: they want to end a need for overtime.

“Every nurse wants to go home at the end of their shift,” said Linda Judd, cochair of the union. “They don’t want to have to stay over.”

Judd said that nurses are forced to work overtime to finish their duties, to fill empty holes in the schedule or to cover a shift of a sick colleague.

“Any overtime is too much,” said the hospital’s president Chuck Gijanto. “We don’t want to have to have overtime anymore than the nurses do.”

Long-term disability or family emergency leaves sometimes leave the hospital with no choice but to ask nurses to pick up extra shifts, he said.

The two sides will meet next Nov. 19.

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