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Caribbean Today, 4/2/13

South Florida registered nurses this week are celebrating their first ever collective bargaining agreement at Florida Medical Center (FMC) and Palmetto General Hospital, with terms they say will both improve patient care as well as secure economic gains for nurses and their families.

The RNs are members of National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida, state affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest U.S. organization of RNs, which represents 800 RNs at the two Tenet Healthcare hospitals. Florida Medical Center RNs voted overwhelmingly in membership meetings to ratify their pact. Palmetto RNs voted unanimously to approve their contract as well. At both hospitals the majority of the nurses are Caribbean: Jamaican-American, Haitian-American, Cuban-American and from many diverse backgrounds. Jamaican nurses were negotiators at both facilities. The historic first contracts are the hard work of the dedicated nurses, who refused to give up.

Terms of the pacts are similar. Patient care improvements include assurances that individual patient illness will be a key factor in determining staffing, limits on the assignment of RNs to work in hospital areas outside their clinical specialty, and a commitment from the hospital to provide lift equipment and safe patient handling practices to curb patient falls and accidents.

Additionally, the RNs won a ban on mandatory overtime, except in emergency conditions, contract protections for exercising their professional right to advocate for patients, and establishment of a Professional Practice Committee of direct care RNs, elected by their colleagues to meet with management to address patient issues.

“We formed a union with NNOC-Florida because we wanted to make staffing improvements for ourselves and our patients,” said Florida Medical Center RN Angela Brown. “Now that we have settled our first contract, I am very proud that we were able to achieve safe lifting protections. This will help prevent injuries to nurses and patients.

Palmetto RN Sharik Eijan, said, “This is much needed. We waited so long to have a voice to be able to improve care for our patients at Palmetto General Hospital. The patients need us to be able to say what is needed for proper care. We were at this for a long time. We got our contract.”

All RNs will earn across the board immediate pay increases of 3 percent up to 6.2 percent over the next two years of the three year agreement, plus additional increases based on years of experience.

The pacts stipulate no reduction in health coverage for the RNs, guarantees that all RNs will be able to take rest breaks during their shift, and establishes seniority rights for filling vacancies, and union grievance and just cause protections in the event of employer discipline.

FMC and Palmetto RNs voted to join NNOC-Florida in 2011, with contract talks occupying much of 2012.

“It was a long road but worth it to get the guarantees and protections our patients deserve," said FMC RN Bill Minger.


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