returning, but at
other med centers,
Nurses strikes loom forBy Suzanne Tswei
St. Francis and Queen's;
Kapiolani is in mediation
Registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente were to return to work today with a new contract which gives them an 8 percent wage increase over three years, a voice in staffing policies and no increase in medical benefit fees.
About 400 of the 600 nurses voted yesterday to ratify the contract, which expires Nov. 30, 2002, said Nancy McGuckin, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association. The initial phase of the wage increase brings the nurses' hourly wage to $26.96, retroactive to Nov. 28. Annual 3 percent increases will follow.
The contract calls for the formation of a Nurse Advisory and Staffing Council made up of bargaining unit members and employer representatives. The council will make recommendations to the hospital on issues of staffing, nursing practice and patient care.
The contract also allows the nurses to retain their current medical benefits, which means no increase in fees for doctor's visits and prescriptions. Other benefits in the contract include higher employer contributions toward retirement plans and more time for continuing education.
While negotiations ended in a settlement at Kaiser, issues of wages, benefits and staffing remain unresolved at four other Oahu medical centers: Kuakini, Kapiolani, St. Francis and Queen's.
The nurses association has delivered strike notices to St. Francis and Queen's. The issues at Kaiser were more easily resolved compared to these hospitals, McGuckin said.
Sister Gretchen Gilroy, chief executive officer of St. Francis Medical Center, said yesterday that the hospital has begun preparations to reduce non-urgent services and patient population in anticipation of a possible strike. The registered nurses can strike the day after Christmas if an agreement is not reached.
"We are very disappointed that a strike notice was given while negotiations are continuing. We consider a pending strike a very serious matter," Gilroy said. She said the hospital "intends to do everything appropriate to avert a strike."
Federal mediator Fred Tokoro will begin mediation Sunday. Federally mediated negotiations also will begin today between nurses and Kapiolani Medical Center, while similar talks are scheduled for Monday at Queen's, which faces a possible strike Christmas Eve.
Marian Marsh, director of the nurses association, said yesterday that methods of staffing, which translate directly to patient safety, are a main point of contention. Nurses are concerned about hospitals' plans to substitute more registered nurses with untrained workers, the nurse-patient ratio and burnout from stress and overwork.
"It's really a matter of patient safety. It's an industry problem, not just with hospitals here. It has to do with costs. It has to do with hospitals looking at costs and not people. The nurses are finally drawing a line in the sand (on the issue)," she said.