To The Daily Sun,
Some have expressed surprise and disappointment with the Belknap County Nursing Home employees' rejection of the tentative contract agreement they were asked to consider. They have questioned why the Department of Corrections employees unanimously accepted the same contract. Simply put, a one-size-fits-all option does not work in contract negotiations.
— The starting pay for LNA's at Belknap County Nursing Home is $12.07 per hour. There are numerous other bargaining unit positions that start at $10.61 per hour and reach only $14.69 an hour at the final step increase for the position. This means, the employee who has the most seniority and experience has no ability to increase their wages unless there is a cost of living increase. Twenty percent of the employees in the unit are "maxed out," and therefore not eligible for the 3 percent step raise offered in the tentative agreement. The actual COLA being offered is only 1.4 percent.
— The savings on the proposed health insurance changes on a family plan participant for the county is $5,600 per year. This means that the county was only passing on about $1,300 in wage increases to Nursing Home employees (if they earned both the 1.4 percent COLA and 3 percent Step.) As we have said, 20 percent of the employees would not receive that full benefit.
Conversely, the jail employees, who we also represent, earn an average of $20 hour in wages. The dollar amount of their increase is higher. More are eligible for the 3 percent step raise, leaving them better able to make ends meet due to the added health insurance deductible of $1,000 for a single person, $2,000 for two people and $3,000 for family plans. Percentage-based raises are more advantageous to higher wage earners in exchange for health insurance concessions.
The county was unwilling to try a different approach in negotiations with the Nursing Home workers, such as a fixed-raise amounts vs percentage-based, a health reimbursement arrangement instead of health insurance stipend, or adjusting the wage scale for lower wage earners. In essence, they refused to think outside of the traditional contract box at the expense of their loyal employees.
The county was also unwilling to present a tentative agreement that required any cost appropriation. They insisted on a dollar-neutral contract or a contract that resulted in a savings to the employer.
In the case of the employees at the Belknap County Nursing Home, this was not a viable contract choice.
We look forward to re-entering negotiations and request that the county consider some of these points when they return to the table.
Richard Gulla, President
SEA/SEIU Local 1984