Time for a Joint Solution. Period

He says seniority. I say ability. He has six words he hangs his hat on and I have six that are in my favor. They are separated by a comma.

". . .to be accomplished based on seniority, consistent with effective and efficient staffing."

These twelve words in the one page Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that addresses requests for reassignment have caused me more trouble than I care to say. If you are familiar with Lynne Truss' book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, published by Gotham Books, and you have read any of my posts, you may agree that I may have what she refers to as a 'clarification complex.' I use commas to clarify, to take a breath, to get up and stretch (!) and one could argue that I use them too much. The fact is that I use them, as do others, to do just what they are intended for - to clarify or modify. Note to union: commas do not signal the reader to ignore what follows. 

The agreement was made in 1998 and I unfortunately am stuck with it. No matter how many times I shred it up, it still keeps coming back. How do I see it? I see it akin to a modified seniority clause (hence the comma.) It is not a strict seniority provision and although, to my dismay, the agreement makes seniority a prime factor in selections for reassignments, it does not make it the only factor in selections. If the parties to the agreement had intended seniority to be the only factor in selections, they would have so stated and indicated by replacing the comma with a period and eliminated the rest of the sentence. They did not.

As we argue over words, intention and interpretation, we seem to have lost sight of one of the real issues at hand, the employees we are both here to serve. Do I think that behind closed doors, in his heart of hearts,  the union president really believes that the most senior is always the most qualified? He has proven himself to be a generally reasonable person and I would say no. So what is behind this all?

Opportunity. We hire many of our new nursing staff into our Extended Care and Rehabilitation service line. This service line requires 24 hour, 7 day a week coverage. All most everyone in Extended Care works shifts. Our Primary Care and Mental Health service lines have many opportunities for the Monday - Friday day shifts our Extended Care nurses so desire. The problem: Extended Care nursing does not readily, easily, or apparently transfer directly into nursing in some of the more specialized nursing positions in other areas of the medical center. The other problem: working shifts really does take it's toll on people and not having opportunities outside of the shift work results in disgruntled, unhappy and unsatisfied employees.

There are a number of possible ways to address this and the union has chosen that god-forsaken MOU. Why? Part of me says because those six words give them something to challenge and because that is something within their control. The other part has to wonder if they tried to approach it from the perspective of work design or if they did, did we not listen? I don't know.

What I do know is that the push and pull over selections, the grievance filing and prepared responses and the yet to be determined decisions on appeals filed on arbitrator decisions is not getting us anywhere. Maybe it is time for an open, honest talk about the issues and concerns we have in common and putting our effort into making it work both for the employees who want opportunities and for the supervisors and managers who must have qualified staff to provide quality care.

It is time for joint solution. Period.