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Highlands Hospital workers have new contract

More than 140 Highlands Hospital employees who belong to Council 13, Local 2340 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will soon have a new contract.

Full- and part-time clerical, service, technical and maintenance employees had been working without a contract since July 31, 2010. The current three-year contract was ratified on May 20 and expires July 31, 2013.

Mary Jane Krosoff, chief human resources officer at Highlands, said the union and administration have agreed on the contract, but officials "are still in the process of finalizing documents and implementing the changes."

Key provisions of the new contract include modest wage and pension increases and a new health insurance benefit that encourages workers to use Highlands Hospital for conditions Highlands treats.

"There is an across-the-board pay increase over the three years that totals 4.5 percent for most employees and 6 percent total over the three years for technical employees," Krosoff said.

Highlands will increase its pension match from 1 percent this year to 3 percent at the contract's end.

"We have added a Home Host health insurance plan with Highmark," Krosoff said. "It's becoming more common for hospitals in the area. It's a Highmark PPO (Preferred Provider Option) offering in-network, less expensive co-payments if they use their home facility. If services aren't available at Highlands, they pay the lower rate. They have a higher co-pay if they choose to go somewhere else for services they could receive here."

This is the first time the AFSCME contract included the Home Host plan, Krosoff said. Nonunion and nurses' union employees already work under it. "Home Host channels our premiums back to Highlands," she said.

Krosoff said the union agreed to higher insurance contributions, deductibles and co-pays in the new contract. "We appreciate this. Because of it, we were able to put modest wage and pension increases in. The employees still have dental, vision, and paid time off accrual."

While negotiations did take time, "AFSCME was responsive for some of our needs to control costs. We tried to address some of our needs for cost savings. Both sides compromised," Krosoff said.

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