We were struck this week by the sharp differences in two long ongoing contract negotiations.
The three local hospitals which have joined together under the banner of the East End Health Alliance have been in and out of talks with the area’s largest insurer, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, since last summer. The benefits and the ability to receive reimbursement for hospital stays for thousands of local residents hang in the balance.
Then there is the struggle between the Sag Harbor School District and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor. This has been going on for two years and the peace of a community rubbed raw is at stake — not to mention salary and benefits packages for teachers and future bills for tax payers.
While the debate between hospitals and insurer goes on behind closed doors, the discussion between the teachers and the district has been, in many ways, very public. We haven’t been privy to what actually is discussed, but speculation and posturing from both sides occurs regularly in school board meetings and on the letters to the editor pages.
There is another difference here, and that is there appears to be an end in sight for the former. An Empire spokesperson this week ebulliantly suggested their might be an agreement within the next few weeks.
While we are encouraged by the announcement this week that the teachers and the school board are hoping to meet in the next few weeks, there is little evidence that either side is prepared to budge from their dug in positions (although we do note the board sending all of its members to a sit down — something the teachers have been requesting all along).
But what has struck us is a comment made by Paul Connor, president of Eastern Long Island Hospital and spokesperson for the Alliance. For the first time in more than five months both sides in the negotiations seem to making real progress. When asked what the turning point was, after months of a stalemate, Connor said simply both sides began to find plaves where they could compromise.
In Sag Harbor, someone is going to have to take the first step. Both sides have claimed they are willing to compromise in certain areas and are not wedded to any position. But, acknowledging we simply don’t know what is said behind closed doors, it does not appear there is any real effort to compromise from either side. We suspect, if there was, we would have moved forward by now.