BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders threw his support behind University of Vermont Medical Center nurses ahead of union negotiations Friday, saying hospital administrators need to increase wages and avert a scheduled strike.
Sanders railed against the "exorbitant" salaries paid to hospital administrators, including over $2 million paid to hospital network’s CEO John Brumsted.
"At the end of the day, like so many other issues, this contract negotiation is about priorities," the independent senator from Vermont said.
If no solution is reached, the nurses are currently scheduled to strike on July 12 and 13.
Nurses are asking for a 24 percent wage increase. Union leaders said that would bring wages equal to those at Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York, which is part of the same network.
"We are not asking for Boston wages or New York City wages. We are looking for parity within our own network, we are looking for parity with Plattsburgh wages," said Julia MacMillan, a post-anesthesia care unit nurse and lead negotiator for the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
Union leaders added the lower wages make it harder for the hospital to attract nurses from out of state, and that many nurses begin their careers and receive training at UVM Medical Center before moving to another hospital.
UVM Medical Center President Eileen Whalen said Friday the two sides can reach a solution if they remain at the table and work with the federal negotiator.
"We remain hopeful we can see this through to a fair resolution before the planned strike occurs next week," Whalen said.
Union leaders expressed frustration that they would be negotiating with the hospital’s lawyers rather than the administrators, and said the sides still remain far apart.
"We are going to continue bargaining in good faith. Them not being at the table, I’m not surprised that they don’t want to face us," said Deb Snell, an intensive care unit nurse and vice president of the VFNHP.
The strike was authorized last month by a 94 percent vote in favor.
Whalen said that if a strike does occur, there will be little disruption to patient care. The hospital has already contracted with a Colorado firm that specializes in nursing strikes and will bring additional nurses from outside Burlington.
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