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Rice settles with three employee unions

WILLMAR -- Contracts were settled this week with three of Rice Memorial Hospital's employee unions, giving workers a 3.5 percent pay increase this year and a 2.5 percent increase next year.

The contract agreements were approved Wednesday by the hospital board of directors. All three agreements had previously been ratified by their respective bargaining units.

They cover the International Association of Firefighters Local 3943, which represents paramedics and emergency medical technicians; and locals 3296 and 105 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME 3296 is the hospital's general unit, representing some 120 employees who include orderlies, nursing assistants, ward clerks, maintenance engineers, housekeeping staff and food service workers. AFSCME 105 represents licensed practical nurses and LPN assistants.

The pay increases were built into this year's hospital budget, said Dale Hustedt, interim chief executive.

Increases are the same for everyone, he said. "We're trying to be consistent across all of our bargaining units."

Hustedt said the hospital hopes the pay increases will help Rice Hospital be more competitive with what other health care employers are paying.

Hospital employees had a pay freeze in 2006, he noted. "We have not quite caught up to market since that time."

Indeed, 1 percent of the pay increase this year for LPNs has been designated as a market adjustment.

Contract language regarding layoffs became one of the bargaining issues, prompted by hospital layoffs that took place in March 2007 and again in August and September of 2008.

The new contracts now contain clearer, more consistent language about seniority and the layoff process, Hustedt said. "We wanted to have clarity so there isn't any conflict or argument about what's the proper way."