NORWICH — Nurses at Backus Hospital have reached a tentative agreement with management over a new four-year contract that will increase wages to a level comparable to other hospitals in the area.
The agreement was reached after more than twenty negotiating sessions that culminated in a two-day nurses’ strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.
According to the contract, nurses at Backus will be paid wages comparable to their counterparts at Windham Hospital, also owned by Hartford Healthcare, by the third year of the contract. Wages for a starting nurse at Backus will immediately increase from the current $29.59 to $31.45, and will increase to $33 over the course of four years. The wage for a nurse who has worked 10 years will increase from the current $36.48 to $38.48, reaching $47.60 by the end of year 4.
Sherri Dayton, president of the Backus Federation of Nurses and a nurse in Backus’ Emergency Department for 16 years, said she was “ecstatic” about the contract.
“I’m really, really hopeful that this is going to fix the staffing crisis,” she said.
Dayton said she thought the raises would allow nurses to work less overtime and have a better “work-life balance.”
“It will make us happier people, better workers,” she said. “I think it’s a win-win.”
Hospital representatives have also expressed satisfaction with the agreement.
“We are pleased that ongoing negotiations between the hospital and the nurses’ union have led to agreement on a fair and responsible contract,” Donna Handley, president of Backus Hospital, said in a statement.
“We greatly value and respect our nurse colleagues and the critical roles they play in our hospital. This is why we have worked hard to seek an agreement to allow us to continue to work together to fight the pandemic and protect our community,” said Handley.
As part of the contract, the nurses will receive bonuses in compensation for the raises they didn’t receive when their previous contract expired earlier this year. Full-time nurses will receive a one-time payment of $550.
The hospital has also agreed to abide by CDC guidelines for COVID, which state that nurses should receive a new N-95 mask every shift. This is in contrast with the hospital’s previous policy requiring nurses to reuse N-95 masks until they were soiled or compromised. Dayton said this would decrease the nurses’ anxiety.
Additionally, the contract stipulates that the hospital will add two lactation rooms and allow significant breaktime for nurses who needed to breastfeed. It also provides for the creation of a committee that meets monthly to discuss staffing concerns, bonuses for certain certifications and the retention of daily overtime.
The nurses will vote on the agreement on October 22. Dayton said she’s confident that they will approve the contract; she said that all the nurses she had spoken with were very happy with the outcome.
“We can get back to the bedside, where we always wanted to be, and with some hope for the future,” she said.