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Nurses at Memorial ratify three-year contract

Registered nurses at Lockport Memorial Hospital ratified a new contract Friday that gives them substantial raises and protects retirees' health care.

Union Vice President George Kennedy said the vote was 74-10 in favor of the contract.

Union spokeswoman Michelle Marto said the three-year contract, retroactive to April 1, gives pay increases ranging from 11 percent to 22 percent over its life.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan J. Wendler said she would not make any comment until the hospital receives the union's notice of ratification Monday.

When the deal was reached last week, Wendler had called it "fiscally responsible for our long-term viability and equitable for the employees."

The 116 nurses, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1199 Upstate, approved the deal that was hammered out in two lengthy bargaining sessions.

"I think it's one of the best contracts I've gotten in a long time," said Kennedy, a veteran health-care negotiator.

"This contract will really make the working relationship much better there," Marto said.

Most of the nurses have been at the hospital for 15 years or more. Marto said one of the union's goals was to narrow a pay disparity, especially noticeable for more experienced nurses, between Lockport and other local hospitals.

"The starting pay wasn't the problem," she said. Marto said most hospitals try to have competitive salaries for new nurses. Lockport was paying newcomers about $19 an hour under the old contract. But small raises as the years go by make turnover a problem.

Thus, nurses with 20 years of service will see raises of 18 percent over the life of the contract, and 15-year veterans will earn 13 percent more by 2008.

Marto said that narrows the pay gap between Lockport and Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston to about $4 an hour at the top of the scale. Lockport nurses had been earning $5.36 an hour less than their Lewiston counterparts.

Nurses had been concerned about a hospital proposal to drop health coverage for nurses who are about to retire. Marto said under the new agreement, Lockport Memorial agrees to continue fully paid health coverage for new retirees for the next decade. "We revisit it in 10 years," she said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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