Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Surviving the Storm

Click here for frequently asked questions about severe weather and the SHARE contract.

We heard some good stories and some bad stories about the storm last Tuesday. A few examples:

The Good
  • A patient critical department that figured out in advance the minimum number of staff needed to safely cover their assignments, got enough volunteers (with a little arm-twisting), and let everyone else stay home
  • A department with a role that does not affect direct patient care asking early on Monday who planned to stay home Tuesday
  • An employee without kids who lives close to the hospital taking a shift for an employee with kids who does not
  • Camaraderie between people who slept over so that they could be at work the next day
The Bad
  • An employee who worked a double shift on Tuesday who did not know when they would be released to go home
  • Employees working near each other who were treated differently – some sent home with pay and others having to use their own time
  • An employee in a patient critical department who came to work, but was pulled over by the police and given a warning for being on the road Tuesday
  • Employees who were told that their department would be closed Tuesday, who did not know that they could volunteer to work somewhere else so they wouldn’t have to use their time, and employees who could not get a clear answer on Monday about what they were supposed to do on Tuesday
There are many, many more stories. Congratulations to the departments that worked it out. And a big thank you to those who stayed over, came in, and worked extra to take care of the patients who didn’t have a choice about being in the hospital!

Most of the bad stories we heard involved delayed information, lack of information, or contradictory information. With that in mind, and since there will be more storms in the future, we have posted some information from the SHARE contract for your information.

So, what should SHARE members know about working during a State of Emergency or other big weather event?

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. How do I find out what I am supposed to do if there is a state of emergency or other severe weather?
  2. What if my department is closed?
  3. What if I don’t want to use my own time?
  4. Can’t they just send me home and pay me without having to use my time?
  5. How am I supposed to get to work if there is a travel ban?
  6. If I don’t come in during a storm, will it be held against me?

To see the full contract language about Severe Weather, p. 103-104, and about TOWOP, (being sent home by your department), p. 103, click here. (There are two parts to the contract: the 2007-2011 contract and the changes from our last negotiations, that continue the old contract through September 30, 2016, and add to it. Severe Weather and TOWOP can both be found in the old contract.)

Contract Corner - Weather FAQ

Below are some Frequently Asked Questions about Severe Weather, with the relevant language from the SHARE contract. Key points are underlined for emphasis.

1) How do I find out what I am supposed to do if there is a state of emergency or other severe weather?

The SHARE contract encourages each department to develop a plan that fits their department’s needs – obviously a nursing floor has different staffing needs than a billing department. Both jobs need to get done, but you can catch up with billing the next day; you can’t do that with patients. The contract says:
Department severe weather plans could include: what staffing level is required in the case of severe weather (such as full staffing, skeletal staffing, or no staffing necessary); how employees will find out if they are required to be at work that day, who to call and how to reach them; and whether there is a difference in their department between the plan for severe weather and the plan for a declared state of emergency. Department managers should review the severe weather plan for their department with all employees annually before winter weather begins. (Staffing plans, p.103)
If your department does not have a plan, talk to your manager, or call the SHARE office for help in approaching your manager, to discuss creating a plan.

2) What if my department is closed?

SHARE members in departments that close, or that allow some or all employees to stay home, have a few options. The contract says:
…employees may use earned, vacation or personal time, or choose to go unpaid for the hours they missed. When appropriate, an employee may make up the time that week, by mutual consent between the employee and the supervisor. Made up hours will be paid at straight time unless weekly hours total more than 40. (Pay for missed hours, p.104)
3) What if I don’t want to use my own time?

You can volunteer to work in another area. In negotiations, the Hospital has always taken the position that all positions are “Essential” in severe weather or a state of emergency. Part of their argument is that on these days they need all the help they can get and would happily put to work anyone who can get in. SHARE has always taken the position that no one should be forced to take time without pay, or use their own time, if they are available to work. This applies to severe weather, a low census, flooding, or other reasons a department might be inclined to send employees home. So, the contract says:

If a department is closed for all or part of the day due to severe weather, employees may go home (see pay for missed hours) or choose to report to/remain at work. The hospital may assign people who stay at work to perform different functions than their normal job. For a work assignment in an area other than your own, page the nursing supervisor/bed management: for the University campus, pager #2044; for the Memorial campus (on evenings, nights, weekends and holidays) pager #3318. (Department closing, early dismissal, p.104)


No SHARE unit member shall be required to take TOWOP. When all other options have been explored, and there is no need to float, the SHARE unit member may take TOWOP or may use earned time or vacation/personal leave, whichever is applicable. If the SHARE member does not want to leave work (either unpaid, or using their own ET, or vacation/personal time whichever is applicable), the employee may choose to stay and be assigned reasonable other duties for which they are qualified (in this case, contract and practice restrictions on cross-campus and/or intra-campus floating will not apply.) If there are no such duties, and the employee is sent home, the employee will be paid. (TOWOP, p. 103)

4) Can’t they just send me home and pay me without having to use my time?

UMass Memorial could choose to send/keep employees home and pay them rather than finding other duties for them (see TOWOP, p.103), but it is very unusual for them to do so. Many years ago, at both UMass and Memorial, in cases of severe weather like last week’s state of emergency, it was more common for employees who were not required to be at work to be sent/kept home with pay, and employees who were required to be at work to be given additional pay or comp time for having to work. That has not been common practice for a while.

It is not a violation of the SHARE contract for the leadership of UMass Memorial Medical Group and/or UMass Memorial Medical Center to send employees home with pay. But it is not required by the contract either. (See question #3 for what the contract requires.) When there are inequities it has a negative impact on morale. SHARE is discussing this with hospital leadership.

5) How am I supposed to get to work if there is a travel ban?
Human Resources has assured us that any employee on their way to or from work should be allowed passage if they show their Hospital ID. We have heard some stories about people being given a hard time by the police for being on the road. If anyone received a ticket or a warning, let us know. HR will help you get it sorted out.

If the roads are impassable, if you live at the top (or bottom) of a steep icy hill, or if you take the bus to work and buses are not running, you may have a problem getting to work even though the police would allow you to. There is not one simple solution to this. UMass Memorial no longer provides rides in a coordinated way for people who can’t get in to work. If you are required to be at work, or you want to come in despite the storm, you can start by talking with your manager and coworkers about whether there is someone you could carpool with, or if they have other ideas. We will be discussing this further with management.

6) If I don’t come in during a storm, will it be held against me?
It depends on whether your department allowed you to stay home. If they did, then the absence will not count against you. The contract says:
If an employee does not work because the department is closed, or because they are not required to come to work, it will be considered an excused absence. Late arrivals covered by an established grace period will be considered an excused absence. Other absences from work on a severe weather day will be considered unexcused. (Excused and unexcused absences, p. 104)

To see the full contract language about Severe Weather and TOWOP, go to pages 103-104 of the SHARE contract

If you have other questions, or want to discuss any of this further, please call the SHARE office at 508-929-4020.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Did You Know? Under HIPAA, Your Medical Records Are Protected from Unauthorized Access (Even from You)

HIPAA has done a great deal of good to protect sensitive patient information. All the same, some members describe the advantages of the time before HIPAA, when patient information could come in handy, and be used for personal reasons. You might want to look up your own appointment time with a doctor, for example, or to figure out a co-worker's home address in order to send a birthday card. However, things are different now.

Sometimes, when SHARE members violate a hospital policy, they don't even think they've done so. While working to take care of themselves and their family, they might access protected information. SHARE members might not realize that their computer activity can be revealed in a routine system audit, and that unauthorized access can result in serious disciplinary action.

Most employees know that HIPAA guidelines permit an employee to access a patient's record only in one of two situations:
  1. For job-related reasons. Or, 
  2. If the employee submits a completed Employee Authorization for Electronic Access Form, which is filed with the Medical Records department. 
But, what about your husband's medical records? Or your children's? Or even your own? It's important to remember that the answer is: the same rules apply.

For example, even if you want to find out the results of your very own lab work, you must be authorized to do so through the Medical Records department, or contact your physician directly.

For more information, visit The US Department of Health and Human Services' "Understanding HIPAA" webpage 

Or, please feel free to call the SHARE office (508) 929-4020, or the UMass Memorial Privacy Office: (508) 334-5551

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 SHARE Dues

SHARE weekly dues will increase in January 2015:
  • For full-time employees the new rate will be $8.39/week. (The 2014 rate was $8.24)
  • For employees budgeted for 20 hours/week, the new rate will be prorated at $6.29/paycheck. (The 2014 rate was $6.18)
The dues rates are set by our parent union, AFSCME (Ameircan Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), every year. If there's a rate change it happens in January and the new rate is based on the average salary raise that all 1.5 million members across the country got in the previous year. 

Where do the dues go?

Most of the dues pay for SHARE staff, the office rent, office supplies, mailings, etc. The money supports the work of the union here at the Medical School (and in our sister unions at UMass Memorial, Harvard University, and the Cambridge Health Alliance) helping members with issues at work, building connections across the campuses, supporting people who have been laid off, distributing information about issues of importance to SHARE members, negotiating contracts, etc. 

The remaining portion of the dues goes to the national union in Washington -- they spend that money on advocating for AFSCME members as a whole, including research and lobbying about issues. (Support for political candidates comes from AFSCME's Political Action Committee, not from dues money.) 


If you have any questions about the 2015 dues rates, please contact the SHARE office at:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Quality Improvement: A Crash Course

If you've been to Lean training, or involved in Idea Board huddles, or just heard the chatter in certain circles of the hospital lately, you're probably aware that there are a lot of new Quality Improvement concepts circulating around UMass Memorial.

In the SHARE office, we recently came across a quick introduction to the general idea of Quality Improvement. I've posted this animated video below. I get the sense that many hospital leaders and QI aficionados are forwarding this amongst themselves, and it's a fairly painless introduction to some of their lingo.  

The video includes an interesting take on curiosity by Don Berwick, founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement  (and candidate for Massachusetts Governor during the last election.) 

The video also discusses the IHI "100,000 Lives" campaign, which our hospital participated in. 

The whole thing is just over ten minutes long. See what you think. . . . 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In the News: Nationwide Pension Policy Revision

Congress has recently reached a deal that would create an unprecedented nationwide reduction of pension benefits for some current retirees. The deal was tied to a 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill designed forestall a government shutdown.

The change will not have any affect on UMMHC pensions.

SHARE leadership is taking note, however, because the retirees who will be affected have already been pledged--and begun receiving--a certain level of pension income. Thus far, all pensions have been guaranteed under the law (except in certain kinds of employer bankruptcies).

The Washington Post explains: "The deal reached would apply to multi-employer pensions, where a group of businesses in the same industry join forces with unions to provide pension coverage for employees." Nearly 1.5 million retirees could see their regular pension payments reduced by up to 30%. The Huffington Post reports that "talks between Rep. John Kline, R-Min., and George Miller, D-Calif., were designed to preserve benefits of current and future retirees at lower levels than currently exist, but higher than they would be if their pension funds ran out of money."

The Defined Benefit Pension at UMMHC is provided to all SHARE members once they have reached the three-year vesting mark, and will be unaffected by this legislation. UMMHC's Pension program is secure, well-funded, and continues to be protected by law. Still, SHARE will be attentive to these kinds of legal precedents, as we have worked hard to develop and negotiate a sustainable pension system in our own workplace, one that ensures reliable retirement income.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Clinical Engineering Contracting Out -- Update

As you may remember from last year, UMass Memorial had agreed to the BioMed Techs' proposal to save money while keeping the service in-house, rather than contracting out the service to save money for the hospital. The BioMed Techs worked on the process improvement through the year (while maintaining high level of service), saving over $800,000 by SHARE's calculations. (See prior post.)

However, this year UMass Memorial has decided that they need to take advantage of the savings to the hospital that contracting out provides, after all.

UMass Memorial has expressed interest in helping the Biomed Techs with this transition, beyond what the contract provides for layoffs, because of their work above and beyond the call of duty with the process improvement project. Dr. Eric Dickson has been clear that the hospital appreciates their all their efforts over the last year and the money that their ideas saved the hospital.

With SHARE, the Biomed Techs have a decision to make: Whether to object to the outsourcing, attempting to bring the question to the whole UMass Memorial community. Or, do they want to view the contracting out as inevitable, and focus on what appears to be a good faith effort on the hospital's part to help them with their transitions.

In general, SHARE opposes outsourcing. Outsourced companies typically pay their employees less and provide less good benefits. Employees of a vendor often do not have the same loyalty and commitment to the patients and to the hospital.We believe that this decision to out-source Clinical Engineering will have a negative impact on the quality of service to departments, which will impact patient care.

The hospital has responded that the impact to patients and the hospital will be worse if they don't take this opportunity to cut costs. The SHARE leadership also has an obligation to put these SHARE members in the best possible position going forward. SHARE will back the techs in either direction -- negotiating a settlement, or campaigning against the contracting out.

Currently, we are working on the idea of packages for the Biomed Techs, in discussions with management. We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to work something out that the Biomed Techs feels is a respectful and dignified end to their careers as UMass Memorial employees.