Rochester General Hospital and nurses union reach tentative agreement; Strike canceled

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Leadership at Rochester General Hospital and the union that represents its nurses have reached a tentative contract agreement days before a strike was scheduled.

The strike planned for Monday has been canceled, according to the Facebook page for the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals. The two groups reached the agreement on Wednesday night during their 25th bargaining session over the course of more than a year.

Now, nurses must vote to ratify the 42-month contract. RUNAP, which represents more than 900 employees, has pushed for higher wages and improvements in staffing. The nurses say staffing shortages have led to nurses taking care of too many patients at once, putting patients at risk.

News10NBC spoke with nurses after Wednesday’s bargaining session.

“We gave management the notice that we would be going out on strike on Monday if we weren’t able to reach an agreement. So, today was the big push to get it done,” said RGH nurse Gillian Kingsley.

“Over the last couple of days, these past two days, it has really shown both sides how much they want it to work,” said RGH nurse Mary Hanrahan.

The planned strike would have been the second of the year. The union held a two-day strike in August where nurses picketed outside of RGH’s main entrance and down Portland Avenue.

Under the tentative agreement, on average, RGH nurses will see a 22% increase in pay over the next 3 ½ years, starting with about 11% this year, 4% in years two and three, and 3% in year four. The deal also increases the on-call rate for nurses by $5 per hour and extends paid bereavement to nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. 

“We’re very proud of the 22% and we hope that it makes us very competitive in the market, in a very competitive market, and hopefully we’ll be able to attract some more amazing talent to the team,” says Jennifer Eslinger, Rochester Regional Health’s President of Health Care Operations and COO.   

The other big sticking point had been safe staffing levels.

The Union and nurses agreed to add staffing grids into the contract which means a committee will set the standards per unit that must be met and the hospital will have to pay monetary penalties when those levels aren’t reached.

“They (committee) will meet collectivity every month, more if needed, and review. How have we done in the past month? How does staffing look in the month ahead? Do we have enough agency team?  How is hiring going? How is recruitment and retention going,” explains Eslinger. “This is the committee that’s going to have the power to help ensure we have safe staffing.”

But Eslinger admits, even with the staffing deal, there will still be staffing challenges.

“Part of what we have struggled with is just the inability to find nurses to staff. The grids have always been there, since we implemented the process per the state law over a year ago. So, that’s been in place,” she says. “Our challenge is finding the talent. So, we’re just going to have to plan ahead, stay on top of it. We are using a lot of traveler nurses — which I don’t foresee will end in the immediate short term future — but recruiting ahead, planning ahead. We even had great conversations with our RUNAP colleagues. We’re going to need your help recruiting and retaining great talent and they agreed.”