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ECMC announces deal with nurses

Erie County Medical Center on Friday announced a tentative agreement with its 600 nurses on work rule changes to make the hospital more competitive.

The proposed deal appeared to meet a Dec. 15 deadline for the hospital to obtain county funds to pay for concessions from the three unions that represent its 2,500 employees.

If approved, nurses will receive a pay raise in 2007 and cash payments based on hours worked, ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 for full-time nurses, according to Michael Young, chief executive officer. In return, the nurses will give up the equivalent of about 10 days in paid time off, Young said.

"It's a fair deal. It recognizes their hard work and makes us more competitive," he said.

Officials of the New York State Nurses Association could not be reached for comment.

After the county spun off the medical center as a public-benefit corporation, a court-ordered agreement in 2005 set the terms of future county support through 2009. The medical center's taxpayer subsidy was $20 million in 2006 and declines to $14 million in 2007. In 2008 and 2009, the county must cover the hospital debt payments.

The court also required the county to provide up to $15 million for changes that reduce personnel costs, which are higher than at private hospitals.

The tentative deal with nurses coincides with a complex recommendation by a state commission that could force a merger between ECMC and Kaleida Health's five hospitals. Officials have said a merger would require labor agreements that bring work rules and benefits at the medical center more in line with the private sector.

Young said the Legislature and Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority must approve a new contract with nurses, and estimated it would require $8 million of the $15 million.

"This will make us more productive and help reduce the subsidy," said Young, who forecast that ECMC will come close to breaking even in 2006 after losing $17.5 million in 2005.

"The Legislature and control board will have to weigh the cost of the agreement against the projected savings," he said.

The hospital didn't reach deals with the Civil Service Employees Association or American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. ECMC could seek an extension of the deadline, although it's unclear if that is legally possible.

CSEA represents 1,100 workers at ECMC and the County Home.

An ECMC proposal included an offer of $5,000 per worker to buy back 25 days of paid time off, said Joan Bender, president of the union's hospital unit. That included some holidays and shorter hours on summer days.

The public employee union considered it an attempt to get workers to buy time back from themselves, Bender said.

"We understand ECMC's situation," she said. "But we're willing to wait for a better deal."

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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