Hospital union calls Board of Regents offer 'slap in the face'

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) -- Union negotiators are calling a new bargaining proposal from the state regents a nonstarter.

It's for thousands of employees at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Representatives from the Iowa Board of Regents met with Local 199 of the Service Employees International Union to offer an initial proposal, Wednesday morning. It wasn't even close to what the union's bargaining committee was hoping for.

The chapter represents about 3,800 UIHC employees, most of them nurses.

The offer had no contractual guarantees on things like vacation accruals, schedules, and holiday and overtime pay. Ultimately-- it was a 1% pay bump for starting wages and an open door for future talks on raises for current employees.

Members of the committee called the offer a “slap in the face.”

The union chapter's general counsel, Jim Jacobson, said the news would come as a big disappointment to members hoping to have more than an employee manual backing them up. He alleged Regents were using Iowa's new collective bargaining rules for selfish means.

"They are hiding behind this law,” said Jacobson. “This is not how a world-class hospital treats its employees."

Longtime UIHC nurse, and member of the committee, Melinda Myers, worried the Regents' offer, if accepted, would lead employees elsewhere for better options and discourage new hires at a time when demand is at an apex.

"There's a nursing shortage in this country and it's going to get worse as baby boomers age,” said Myers. “Nurses are worried."

The next step for the union is an uncertain one. They'll review and work to determine what their response will be to the Regents.

To date, the group has submitted about 400 petitions calling for the Regents to bargain with the union on all subjects permitted by law. If the two reach an impasse, the general counsel had a warning.

"I don't know what people are willing to do to ensure that they are treated fairly," said Jacobson.

The University of Iowa shared some counterpoints to the union's issues, in a statement.

Officials with the Office of Strategic Communication pointed out in May 2018, Forbes ranked UI Health Care among "America's Best Employers" for the fourth year in a row. That UI Health Care is ranked #34 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia for average pay for nurses. Also, that, despite not having a contract-- UIHC has been able to successfully grow the patient care workforce by over 330 employees since July 2017.

The union is also involved in litigation with the Regents over a previous contract which was in the approval process when the new bargaining laws went were signed into law. The union claims it's valid-- Regents disagree.