Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fighting with my employer

I belong to a union. There are many things I hate about being in a union. The biggest hindrance is that I get paid the same amount as the laziest worker gets paid. There is no incentive to be an excellent employee, except the internal motivation to do a good job. When I was a new employee, I also hated that everything worked on a seniority basis. I had to work every holiday and Christmas and New Year's Eve, with no guarantee for a vacation during the summer. We have a limit on how many people can be on vacation at any one time, and with over 220 employees in my unit, it is difficult to allow everyone to take vacation at times that are coveted. Who wants vacation in March? How about October? Well, neither of those times are bad, IF you choose them, but if your kids have mid June to late August off from school, that is when you want to take some family time off. The earlier years were hard that way.
I've now been at my job for over 21 years, and I'm the 8th most senior person on my shift, out of about 60-70 on my shift. I still don't get vacation time during Christmas week, and probably not during Spring recess, but I can get a summer vacation, if I want one. As one earns one's tenacity with a company, the union benefits become better. If for no other reason but knowing a company's history.
When I was first hired, I worked for Alta Bates Hospital. A few years later, Alta Bates Hospital merged with Herrick Hospital, so I got a new name badge, with a new logo on it, but there weren't any significant changes. I could still park in the hospital parking lot, and I worked a lot of holidays. A few more years down the line and we became Alta Bates Medical Center. It was a marketing ploy, as a "medical center" sounded more prestigious than a mere hospital. Our logo changed again, so I got yet another name badge. We got more techie, too, so eventually I had to get a new name badge for the bar code that was on it, so I could get in certain, restricted doors, like the elevator, and the break room. A few more years later and there was another change. Alta Bates Medical Center became a subsidiary of Sutter Health. It was explained to employees that it was to obtain better purchasing agreements and to have better third party payer contracts. Yet another badge was received. Then Alta Bates Medical Center merged with Summit Medical Center; an organization made up of the former Merritt, Providence, and Peralta Hospitals (which had become Merritt-Peralta and Providence separately, then all three merged into Summit Medical Center). We are all now called Alta Bates Summit Medical Campus (ABSMC) with the campus designation (ie Herrick site, Alta Bates site, Summit South [aka Providence], etc). It is amazing how many patients end up at the wrong site, as FIVE facilities all have the same name now. What this latest merge did was to combine two union contracts into ONE contract. The former Alta Bates employees gained some wage increases, as the Summit contract was stronger in that way. The Alta Bates employees also gained some unforeseen benefits by the combined (and agreed upon by all parties) contract. In order to maintain licensure, there is a need to attend 30 hours of continuing education classes every two years. To provide for this, there is paid education leave available to the employees of my union. The contract specifically states that the nurse may be required to show proof of CE (continuing educaiton) certificates at the time of the annual evaluation. No where in the current contract does it state that a CE certificate must be submitted for payment of the paid education leave hours. As a result there is now a union grievance with the employer on this basis.
A number of nurses, after attending a CE class, were denied payment, despite receiving manager pre-approval for attending the class (in order to get time off from the work schedule). The CE certificates were not submitted with the time card, *as it is not required*. Because proof was not submitted, the hours were not paid, putting the nurse in a temporary financial strain. Upon submission of the CE certificates, the Ed Leave hours have been paid. I'm one of those employees who did not get paid. I attended classes on days I already had off. I submitted my CE certificates electronically to my manager, asking permission to use Ed Leave hours during a pre-approved vacation time. I was granted this permission, and the entire email transaction was forwarded on to our payroll clerk by my manager. I was still on vacation when it came time to submit my time card, so I emailed the payroll clerk with my hours worked and my request to submit the CE certificates to her. My response, in email, was that they had already been submitted to my manger, and that they had been forwarded on to her in a previous email. When it came time to be paid (DESPITE having adequate vacation time in my accrual account) I was not paid for three days. I was paid for 5 days worth of time, out of 8 days that needed to be accounted for. 4 vacation days were used, no holiday time was used, and no workshop time was used, DESPITE having requested ed leave time to be used first, then accrued holiday time (I'm no dummy, accrual pot runs out at the end of the year). I had 56 hrs of paid ed leave time available to take and 28 hours of holiday time. Why I was paid from my vacation pot, I have no idea, when I had plenty of time my other accrual pots of time.
I know why. Vacation time is cashed out when it hits over 400 hours, or at the termination of one's employment. Holiday time and Ed Leave time just simply expires when it's not used. It's far better for the employer to let the ed leave and the holiday pots expire, and pay me from other funds. If you are going to screw me, may I at least have the benefit of some lube, please?
Bottom line: I spent several hours today with some colleagues of mine, attending a grievance hearing (stage 3 out of 4 possible stages). The hearing was pretty horrible, with the management team agreeing to some meeting rules at the start of the meeting, but then changing the rules as they got more scared of losing. Each nurse attending the grievance meeting was sequestered and called on one at a time. We had to answer the questions directed to us, and to ONLY answer those questions; not to give any additional information unless it was requested. It felt very much like a court of law. The management team supplied two people to act as the impartial decision makers and my union provided two people, resulting in 4 people who were to make the final judgement. Of course, it was a deadlock. 2 for and 2 against the contract interpretation. Now the union gets to decide if they will take this to the final step; arbitration. I hope they do. I hate it when one's employer takes advantage of its workers. We work hard and we deserve to get the benefits agreed upon, without having to fight for each and every one of them.

Addendum-2/3. WE WON! After a meeting about some other issue, my employer agreed that the contract was not being followed. I think it was realized that some additional, more damning emails from about 2 yrs ago had been found, and that, if the issue had gone to arbitration, my employer would have lost, but with the damning emails in public and egg on the employer's face. WE WON!!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment.