Monday, December 16, 2002

Sitting around their Christmas tree, Byron and Laura Root's family posed for a picture on Thursday (the only two presents under the tree were sent to them in the mail). From left were father Byron Root, behind him son Ryan, 16, son Reid, 12, and mom Laura, who was holding 5-year-old son Reyn.

Striking nurses anxious
over their holiday bills

Many are having difficulty keeping up
as picketing continues

By Leila Fujimori

Laura Root is hoping for at least one gift under the tree for each of her three sons on Christmas Day.

She and her husband, Byron, are both registered nurses at the Queen's Medical Center and have been on strike since Dec. 3.

"The older ones aren't asking for anything this Christmas, but the youngest one, everything he sees he wants," Root said.

"It makes me feel real sad because we won't be able to give him what we want to, but as long as we're together ..." she said and began to cry.

The Roots are among the 1,400 members of the Hawaii Nurses Association at Queen's, St. Francis Medical Center and Kuakini Medical Center walking the picket line. Nurses at St. Francis and Kuakini went on strike Dec. 2.


Talks resume today between the Hawaii Nurses Association and two hospitals, the Queen's Medical Center and Kuakini Medical Center.

Negotiators for Kuakini and the union will meet with the federal mediator at 9 a.m., while teams from the HNA and Queen's will meet with the mediator at 3 p.m.

No new talks are scheduled between the union and St. Francis.

The Roots drained most of their savings to buy a house in Nuuanu last summer and are not sure how they will manage the mortgage payments or Christmas with no money coming in.

To lessen the burden, they decided not to exchange gifts with their extended families.

Laura Root said many nurses such as single parents are worse off.

The Roots have each other to lean on for support, and picket together from midnight to 4 a.m. so they can be home for the kids during the day.

"It's tough for everybody," she said. "I'm grateful that I have friends and family who are supportive."

For Christine Isagawa, an intensive-care unit nurse, Christmas means giving to those in need, helping with toy and food drives and caroling at nursing homes.

"Usually we take tiny handmade gifts for patients," she said. "This is the time we usually start wrapping up gifts."

Even though she has less to offer this year, "it hasn't dampened my spirit," she said.

"It's kind of sad this had to mar the holiday spirit," said Audrey Cline, 37, also a nurse at Queen's.

She was hoping to shower her only child, Chelsea, 2, with Christmas gifts.

She and her family did manage to buy at least one gift before the strike started.

Toni Harada, who is divorced, took out a loan to make her mortgage payments, which she could not get deferred.

Others like Rogelyn Kwock, 25, who is six months pregnant and is putting her husband through school, had set aside money for an emergency fund.

But if the strike continues beyond December, she will have to come up with about $800 for medical coverage, she said.

Harada expressed concern for hospital patients.

"I'm torn," she said.

"I feel for the patients, their families and their visitors," she said. "To be in the hospital is stressful enough, and then to have to deal with the uncertainty of what kind of care they're getting."

She and others also had concerns about nurse managers and nonunion nurses who have assumed the patient-care duties.

"I know people working 15, 16 hours a day more than four days a week," she said. Many in management who had travel plans to be with family have had to cancel them, she said.

All three hospitals have brought in replacement nurses from the mainland.

St. Francis Healthcare System
Queen's Medical Center
Kuakini Health System

Hawaii Nurses Association

E-mail to City Desk


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