By Tim Leeds
The contract negotiations between the local nurses union and Northern Montana Hospital are ongoing, with different takes on the process from each side.
The hospital's negotiating team and the team representing the local of the Montana Nurses Association met last Friday for the first day of negotiations.
"Nothing really happened," said Don Robinson of Poore, Roth and Robinson, PC, based in Butte, the firm that is representing the hospital in the negotiations. "We just discussed our opening proposals each side submitted and agreed to meet again on Dec. 5."
Raymond Berg, labor relations specialist of the Montana Nurses Association, was the head negotiator for the union at the meeting. He said the nurses expected the negotiations to go farther and faster Friday.
The local had provided the hospital with a package containing 28 proposals on Aug. 15, Berg said. After breaking for discussion following the initial presentation of proposals last Friday, the hospital made counteroffers on only six of the proposals, he said.
"There is some disappointment and frustration expressed by members of the local," he said. "Why (the hospital representatives) weren't able to offer (a) package proposal at the time I don't know."
Robinson said the union had to file its proposals as early as it did. Montana law requires that the union file a notice within 90 days of the contract expiration, he said. The nurses' two-year contract expires Nov. 30.
Robinson said the meeting was typical for the first day of negotiations. On the first day, both sides usually present their proposals, discuss them and ask why each side made the proposals they did, he said.
"It's generally just an exchange of information for the first meeting," he said. "It's probably a pretty typical situation so far."
Berg said the six proposals the hospital made counteroffers on related to shift differentials.
The nurses are standing firm on their main concerns, he added.
"You would say the issue remains the same," he said, "recruitment, retention and addressing market wages."
Berg said in an interview in September that Northern Montana Hospital pays the lowest wages of the 13 nonprofit hospitals the Montana Nurses Association represents.