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New contract OK'd for Rice RNs

WILLMAR -- Registered nurses at Rice Memorial Hospital have a new contract that gives them a 4 percent pay increase this year and a 3.5 percent increase next year.

The labor agreement with the Minnesota Nurses Association was approved Wednesday by the board of directors at the city-owned hospital. It was ratified last month by the hospital's registered nurses.

It's the last of four union contracts with hospital employees to be settled this year. Agreements were reached last month with bargaining units that represent licensed practical nurses, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and the general American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unit, which includes food service, housekeeping, orderlies, ward clerks, nursing assistants and maintenance engineers. About half of the hospital's employees are represented by a union.

The pay increases for the registered nurses includes a half-percent market adjustment to help align their wages with what other hospitals of similar size are paying, said Dale Hustedt, interim chief executive at Rice. Hospital employees had a pay freeze in 2006, he said. "That dropped our wages a little below market. We want to get back up to be competitive."

Language regarding the procedure for layoffs also was revised, Hustedt said.

For all four unions, layoff language became a major bargaining issue in the wake of employee job cuts in March 2006 and in August and September of last year. It became important to both the unions and hospital management to have a clearly defined process for layoffs, Hustedt said. "Both groups came to the table wanting to clarify this."