The 1,400 nurses and caregivers at Dimensions Healthcare System in Prince George’s County have voted to ratify a new three-year contract that guarantees at least a six percent salary increase, caps work shift cancellations and insures that the $655 million hospital planned for the county will be a union shop. “We fought back and defeated an attempt to shut out employees who have sacrificed for Dimensions to survive and to be able to build the new hospital,” said John Reid, executive vice president of the Maryland-DC region of 1199SEIU. “We are partners for quality care in the county and the new hospital cannot happen unless we are a part of it.”
The vote, ratified on October 28, came after more than 18 months of tough negotiations during which the union representing the workers, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, repeatedly rejected proposals from Dimensions that would give Dimensions the option of cancelling the more than 30-year-old collective bargaining agreement in the event of a sale or merger. Dimensions put forward this proposal while in talks about a developing relationship with the statewide University of Maryland Medical System.
Dimensions Healthcare System includes Prince George’s Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, the Bowie Health Campus and clinics in Suitland, Lanham and Brentwood. In addition to assuring continuation of the union contract at these facilities and at the new hospital, the union also eliminated a proposal by Dimensions for unlimited cancellations of work shifts. Under the contract agreement, cancellation of shifts is now capped at 15 shifts per year for full-time employees and requires the employer to first cancel agency workers, reassign a caregiver to an area of need based on experience or skills required and rotate employees who are being cancelled, so no one worker is repeatedly impacted. If this new policy results in excessive cancellations, management agrees to meet with members of the union to make policy changes.
The contract agreement will also provide a two percent wage increase for each year over the next three years, traditional “step” increases for nurses and a bonus to cover lost wages during the protracted contract negotiations.
During the year and a half of contract negotiations, nurses and caregivers at Dimensions picketed outside the system’s facilities on April 16, revealed plans by Dimensions to downsize staff and services and marched in the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival Parade behind a banner that read, “We Care For Maryland.” Members of 1199 at Dimensions maintain an online presence at www.DimensionsCanDoBetter.org.