University of Vermont Medical Center's union nurses return to work Saturday after two days of picketing. The dispute between the union and the hospital remains unresolved.
The nurses union and the hospital have been negotiating a three year contract renewal since late March. At the Colchester Avenue entrance to the hospital Friday afternoon, live musicians played and a Ben & Jerry's employee handed out free ice cream to nurses from a truck.
"We're hoping that maybe some external pressure on the hospital is what we need right now," said Maggie Belensz, a nurse in the neurology unit participating in the strike. "So hopefully, you know, today seeing everybody out here will maybe make a dent and maybe they'll see from our side," she added.
The future remains uncertain, however as the two sides remain in disagreement on several key issues. Pay increases for nurses are at the heart of the dispute. The hospital's latest proposal would raise wages 14 percent over the next three years. Meawhile, the nurses union is holding out for a 22 percent increase over three years. The union also wants more support staffing and a $15 minimum wage for all hospital staff.
"I believe that we will come to an equitable solution," said union president Laurie Aunchman. "You know if the hospital continues to refuse to bargain in good faith, then we may have a long road ahead of us."
The hospital's administration said a deal can be made, but the timeline is hard to pin down. Laurie Gunn is one of the hospital's vice presidents, and has been involved in the contract re-negotiation process.
"I think it's just continuing to keep the dialogue open, understanding where the really big sticking points are, trying to come to some compromise," said Gunn. "I mean that's what negotiations are and we've just gotta keep talking. There is no other way around it."
Either way, union nurses will be back to work Saturday morning. The next round of negotiations has not yet been scheduled.