The dispute over the wording continues to drive a wedge between the two parties involved due to the fact that simple words such as "may" and "shall" can change the entire meaning of the contract proposal on both sides.
The remaining issues of conflict from the Dec. 3 ARH proposal include the hours of work and work week, job vacancy notice, holiday work hours and guidelines for scheduling and staffing.
Hospital officials stand firm on their statement that "ARH has simply reserved the right to manage the work schedules to fulfill its obligations to meet the needs of patients while balancing the interests of the employees and ARH."
Although the proposal states that ARH has communicated its intent to permit employees to work flexible schedules where it makes operational sense, according to hospital officials, the purpose of the wording of the new contract is only to ensure that ARH is not bound when they cannot commit to make such schedules upon demand.
An example of the wording of the contract dispute includes the use of "may" and "shall" in Article VII Section A of the proposal which reads, "The basic work day shall be eight hours per day and the basic work week shall be 40 hours per week. In addition, alternative schedules of 10- and 12-hour shifts may be made available by ARH under a flexible scheduling arrangement. Such alternative scheduling as may be made available would include four 10-hour shifts for a 40-hour work week; three 12-hour shifts for a 36-hour work week; three 12-hour shifts one week and four 12-hour shifts the next for 36- and 48-hour work weeks, respectively, with all being considered full time."
In its counterproposal, the union requests that the word "may" be changed to "shall" due to the fact that the wording would give ARH total discretion of the flexible scheduling, making the contractual provision meaningless.
ARH officials insist that they recognize the interests of the nurses to work flexible schedules and have made these flexible schedules available in each community.
Also in Article VII Section C, the proposal states, "Should ARH see a need and desire to schedule registered nurses on a flexible working different from the basic work schedule of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, the new method will not cause ARH to incur overtime costs until 40 hours have been worked during the work week. ARH may terminate the flexible schedule arrangement by providing written notice to the registered nurse at least 21 days prior to the start of the next schedule."
The proposal also states that before implantation of a flexible schedule, ARH will notify the registered nurses involved for reasonable accommodations to be made to meet the needs of the individual nurses when feasible.
However, the union's counterproposal insists that the words "by mutual agreement" be included in this section because "this provision should be consistent with the old contract which provides that implementation of a flexible schedule will be by mutual agreement between ARH, the nurses and the local unit president or designee."
According to Harlan ARH Chief Executive Officer Paul Miles, any wording from the old contract is not a workable negotiation on the part of ARH because the old contract will not be a "reality again."
"We have repeatedly stated that the old contract is not an option," Miles said Friday during an interview.
Miles also added that there may be issues that could be worked out; however, he suggested that all third parties be set aside and the negotiations be made between the nurses and ARH officials.
"When you have third parties involved, things seem to get more complicated," Miles said.
Several nurses on the Harlan picket line said the wording of the contract is vitally important to their decision as to whether or not they would agree to the proposal.
Harlan ICU nurses Barbara Cooper, Vicky Curry and Sandy Bennett said under the wording of the new proposal, ARH officials would have complete control over scheduling.
Concerning the ongoing issue of being moved around during their shifts, all three women also added that if it was a simple case of being asked to "help out" on another floor or unit when there is a shortage of staff, they would be eager to accommodate; however, the nurses said it is not just a matter of "helping out."
"They (ARH officials) can and will schedule it weeks in advance if it is up to them to decide the scheduling," said Cooper. "It doesn't have to be just in the event that several people call in sick."
While there are several other sections where the wording of the latest ARH proposal concerns the nurses and union officials, they say they stand firm that they will not return to work until these "kinks" have been worked out for the best interest of safe staffing and patient care.
Miles added that his suggestion of removing third parties from the negotiations was due to his concern for the nurses and their understanding of the proposal.
"I suggest that the nurses take the time to examine the proposal for themselves before they make any decisions," Miles said.