Jackson Health System

Jackson hospital reaches deal with unions to restore workers’ pay

 

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

The Jackson Health System announced Wednesday something that has eluded Miami-Dade County government for months: It reached a tentative deal with labor unions.

The public hospital network and two unions that represent more than 10,000 workers announced agreements to phase out an unpopular pay concession and award employees one-time bonuses.

Jackson would reduce the pay contribution, which goes toward group healthcare costs, to 2 percent from 5 percent, retroactive to Jan. 1. The remaining 2 percent would go away at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Executives who have not been making the contribution would begin to pay the 2 percent, also retroactive to Jan. 1. Rank-and-file employees had said it was unfair to exempt executives, who had seen pay cuts and other benefit suspensions, though not always equal to a 5 percent pay contribution.

The unions also agreed to end discussions on pay raises through Sept. 30, marking the fourth consecutive year that Jackson employees forgo such increases.

In addition, because the hospital system closed its last fiscal year with a better-than-expected $45 million surplus, Jackson would award one-time bonuses to employees amounting to 3 percent of their base pay.

Jackson’s two unions were among seven at impasse with the county over the disputed healthcare contribution.

“It’s great that we found a way to resolve this,” Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya said. “We’re hoping this excites our employees and continues to help us in the transformation and improvements to the system.”

He referred to the bonuses as “one-time, gain-sharing payments.”

The agreements engendered talk of teamwork between management and employees, and predictions of a more secure financial future for the county’s public hospital network.

Martha Baker, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1991, which represents physicians, registered nurses and other healthcare workers, said the deal recognizes the contributions of employees in helping turn around the hospital system’s finances over the past three years.

“This is a financial acknowledgment that we’re on our way up,” Baker said. “This is symbolic of Jackson betting on its future under Mr. Migoya’s leadership.... We can now focus on delivering quality healthcare instead of financially saving our hospital.”

She called the return of the healthcare contribution to Jackson employees “a morale booster.”

“Our employees put so much passion, energy and love into their work at Jackson,” Viviene Dixon-Shim, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1363, which represents hospital support staff, said in a statement. “These agreements let us keep our focus exactly where it belongs: on the patients and families who need us.”

The compromise adds a wrinkle to county government’s ongoing contract disputes with unions over the healthcare contribution, which had been scheduled to end this year.

By the end of the week, Mayor Carlos Gimenez is expected to veto, for the second time, county commissioners’ decision to restore county and Jackson workers’ pay in full.

The veto needs to take place in order for Jackson’s compromise agreements to go to union members, the Public Health Trust and the county commission for approval. Without a veto, Jackson would have to adhere to commissioners’ last vote and eliminate the entire healthcare contribution immediately, making the negotiated deal moot.

The Public Health Trust, which oversees Jackson, meets Monday.

One of the six trust members (a seventh seat is vacant) fired off an explosive email to Migoya 71 minutes after the deal was announced Wednesday, notifying the chief executive that he plans to vote against the tentative deal.

“This is BS,” Joe Arriola wrote, telling Migoya he had “no right to make a deal without consulting or approval of our Board.”

“If you think that a phone call with a 3 min explanation of the contract without giving us details is enough you are wrong and I intend to vote against it,” he concluded.

Support for the deal from the Public Health Trust could give commissioners a model to work out the remaining impasses with five other unions that represent county employees who don’t work at Jackson. Those unions represent police officers; general professionals and supervisors; water and sewer workers; general employees, and transit workers.

Commissioners and the administration have said they don’t like to treat one union differently from another. They have already restored the pay for aviation and sanitation workers; a similar deal at Jackson would put more pressure on the county to end or phase out the healthcare contribution.

The relationship between Gimenez’s administration and the unions has deteriorated so much, however, that it appears unlikely that both sides would negotiate an agreement as occurred at the hospital. Any deal would likely have to originate from the commission, where several board members who support restoring workers’ pay have appeared willing to compromise.

Gimenez said he expects commissioners to resolve the impasses with the remaining unions with a similar deal to Jackson’s. Commissioner Sally Heyman floated a potential phase-out plan last week.

“It’s inevitable that we reach a compromise,” Gimenez said, “and it seems that what they’ve done here is pretty close to how things could go.”

His administration has said eliminating the healthcare contribution all at once would open a $56 million hole this year in the county’s $4.4 billion operating budget, though a phased-out elimination would cost somewhat less.

Migoya said the agreements will create an additional $10.8 million expense in Jackson’s $1.5 billion operating budget, but that hospital administrators will close that gap through cost savings and new revenues.

His staff projected an $11 million surplus for the current fiscal year, and Migoya said the team is sticking to that promise.

In a memo to county commissioners, who must ultimately sign off on the deal, Migoya said restoring the healthcare contribution to employees would not create a budget deficit, contradicting a statement he made to the board last year.

Among the hospital system’s ideas for bringing in more money and controlling costs: reducing the length of stay for admitted patients, particularly among the uninsured, whose numbers have been increasing at Jackson since October; and refurbishing patient rooms and other facilities to attract more insured patients.

“A motivated workforce will help us to achieve those goals,” Migoya said.

Jackson administrators will need greater cooperation from physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers as hospital reimbursements from government programs and private insurers change under the Affordable Care Act to reward positive patient outcomes and other quality indicators, as opposed to simply paying for volume of services.

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