In what a spokesperson for the New York State Nurses Association (“NYSNA” or union) called a model for other New York City hospital contract negotiations, the NYSNA recently reached a four-year agreement with New York Presbyterian Hospital that includes an agreement to continue health benefits unchanged without employee contributions.
This part of the agreement contradicts an arbitrator’s award issued on June 20, 2011, that mandated new benefit plan options and provided for employee contributions for plans offered by the New York State Nurses Association Benefit Fund, the plans that provide health benefits for New York Presbyterian’s nurses and some 14,500 nurses employed at 40 hospitals and nursing homes in New York City and its vicinity. The arbitration was the result of a deadlock between the employer and union trustees of the NYSNA Benefit Fund.
In May 2010, the employer trustees, in light of what they saw as unprecedented cuts in revenue and noticeable changes in the nature of employer-provided benefits, initiated discussions to change and update benefit plan design and provide for employee contributions. The union trustees opposed the proposals, and, after mediation failed to break the deadlock, the parties submitted the issues to arbitration. The arbitrator’s award granted the employer trustees’ proposals for new plan designs and employee contributions.
Under the award, the premium sharing options were to go into effect on the effective date of the new collective bargaining agreements for the individual hospitals.
The New York Presbyterian Hospital agreement plainly ignores the arbitrator’s award and conflicts with the mandated changes. Apparently recognizing this, the agreement states that the health benefits in the settlement are subject to approval by the NYSNA Benefit Fund. The agreement also provides that if the provision is rejected, the employer has agreed to alternate approaches: either complying with the Fund’s contribution requirements and reimbursing employees or, if the Fund rejects that approach, providing benefits outside the Fund that maintain the level of benefits without employee contributions.
Thus, in the case of New York Presbyterian Hospital, the union managed to negotiate away the arbitration award that was ostensibly binding on the 40 hospitals and the union participants in the Fund.
It remains to be seen how the Fund trustees treat the New York Presbyterian Hospital agreement and whether the union will attempt, as they stated, to use the New York Presbyterian Hospital agreement as a model in other pending hospital negotiations, in effect negating the arbitration award.
St. Luke’s Roosevelt announced a settlement with the union averting a strike called for January 3. Interestingly, that settlement provided for employee contributions for healthcare coverage but also provided for year-end bonuses that may offset the employee contributions.