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PEF Division 180 spurs shift change that yields 3-day workweeks at Buffalo PC


There’s no better place to start efforts for resolving problems at your worksite than your PEF division.  That’s what members of PEF Division 180 did at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and it is paying off for them.

“It’s taken 1,000 days of non-stop effort, but we’re seeing a real improvement,” said Division 180 Council Leader Vincent Cicatello, a psychiatric nurse 3 with 20 years of service. “With the help of our members we came up with a proposal for changing nursing shifts.  Management agreed to try it out on a pilot basis, and that has made things better on many levels for our members, for the facility and for patients.”

The change has been formalized in a labor-management agreement.

The change switched nursing from three eight-hour shifts daily, to two shifts of 13.5 hours. The shifts overlap and that has extra benefits especially for the patients.

“It works out that a nurse will work two shifts of 13.5 hours and one shift of 13 hours in a week. The shifts run from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.,” Cicatello said.  “So, twice a day, there’s a shift overlap that puts extra staff on duty.”

Cicatello said the patients like that shift overlap because it makes it easier for them to get individual attention and it has reduced some of the violent incidents that often coincided with shift changes.

“We just didn’t have enough nurses to staff three shifts every day,” Cicatello said.

The benefits of the new shift schedules came just in time to help keep the psychiatric center functioning well through all of the added stress and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide shutdown to reduce exposures and infections.

“It’s taken leadership, unity and hard work by the members and leaders of Division 180, openness on the part of management to listen to the union and try a new approach, and cooperation by many people,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “Now the positive result may go further than just benefiting them.  It may give other PEF divisions and state facilities some data and ideas that could help them solve similar problems.

Like many state facilities, understaffing – especially nursing staff – was a common problem for years at BPC, and competition in the local labor market with better pay offered by nearby hospitals made recruiting and retaining nurses a challenge.

And, again as many other state health care facilities have found, short staffing led to more overtime for the existing staff, and difficulty for them to get permission to use their accrued leave. Those conditions also contributed to other issues such as workplace injuries and higher workers’ compensation costs for BPC.  It was no morale builder

The officers and stewards of Division 180 saw and heard and personally experienced some of these issues and they wanted to address it.  They began three years ago by surveying their members.  What they learned from that survey and the many discussions that followed it set them on the path to proposing the shift change at local labor-management meetings and convincing managers at the center that it was worth a try on a pilot basis.

No one knew or could even have guessed as this proposed experiment  moved forward that it would become a critical factor in helping everyone BPC get through the unprecedented stresses and strains, dangers and risks of the COVID-19 pandemic that would grip the state and then the country in 2020..

“We just wanted to make the work and personal lives of our members better,” Cicatello said. It turned out to benefit “our members, the patients and management. We couldn’t compete very well in attracting nurses when other area hospitals offered higher pay, but offering them a three-day workweek is a draw.”

Cicatello said he hopes the lessons learned at BPC may help other PEF divisions at state health care facilities solve some of their problems.

“If they use our model as a starting point, they wouldn’t need three years to do it.  I think they might pull it off in three to six months,” Cicatello added.

The key is member unity and willingness to be active in their PEF divisions, he said, and an openness on the part of management to consider new approaches.

“I have a lot of people to thank for the success we’ve had at BPC, starting with our PEF members, because PEF did the “grunt work” on this. I especially want to recognize Tracy Smith-Bivins who was our assistant council leader until she retired, her successor in that role, Alexandre do Nascimento, and our PEF field representative Troy Salley. And former PEF member and current Chief Nursing Officer Linda Fonti and CSEA member Mariah Talmon were instrumental in scheduling plans and helping us convince management to allow the pilot to happen. We also needed and had great support from President Spence and the staff in PEF’s Department of Contract Administration.”

Cicatello said he would be glad to talk with leaders of other PEF divisions who may want to know more about the shift change.