Kaiser nurses seek to replace union
Saying the Hawaii Nurses Association has failed to protect the interest of nurses and patients, nurses at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center and Kaiser clinics are attempting to remove the local nurses union as their collective-bargaining representative and replace it with a California-based union.
The majority of the approximately 800 Kaiser nurses represented by the Hawaii union have signed a petition requesting to replace the Hawaii nurses union with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association, said Michelle Paik, a registered nurse at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center.
The petition to the National Labor Relations Board paves the way for a vote of Kaiser nurses by the end of January, Paik said. A majority of members voting in the election will be needed to make the switch from the Hawaii union to its California counterpart, Paik said.
"There are a lot of signatures; there's a lot of support for this," she said.
Aggie Pigao Cadiz, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association, said the California union has created unrealistic expectations of wage increases and staffing conditions. She suggested Hawaii nurses look at current contracts negotiated by the California group and ask how many times nurses had to strike to obtain the contracts before deciding to join with the California nurses group.
Pigao Cadiz said the situation reminds her of "that old adage, 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.'"
"I'm not saying it isn't (true)," Pigao Cadiz said. "But let's get some proof."
The push to break from the Hawaii Nurses Association comes as Kaiser nurses are voting to finalize a new contract with Kaiser. Votes were scheduled to be counted last night after press time.
Paik said the attempt to defect from the Hawaii Nurses Association follows years of dissatisfaction with the organization. The Hawaii union, she said, has enabled hospitals throughout the state to provide inadequate numbers of nurses to care safely for patients.
"It's inadequate all over the state, and as a nurse at Kaiser, I can say it's inadequate at Kaiser, too," Paik said.
Lynn Kenton, a spokeswoman for Kaiser, said the hospital receives consistently high marks for patient satisfaction, which she said was a sign that the hospital is properly staffed. Although Paik said the hospital was cited by the Hawaii Department of Health for patient safety violations in 2004, Kenton said the hospital had not been cited for patient safety violations by any regulatory agency for at least three years. Paik said she could not immediately provide public records documenting the alleged violations.
California law mandates maximum patient-to-nurse ratios, which are reflected in union contracts there. The Hawaii contracts recently negotiated for nurses at Kaiser and other hospitals contain no such requirement.
The Hawaii Nurses Association has been embroiled in internal strife for years concerning its affiliation with the American Nurses Association, Pigao Cadiz said. The California group is not associated with the national entity. Thus far, members of the Hawaii union's 45-member board of directors have voted for the Hawaii union to maintain the tie with the national group, Pigao Cadiz said.
But nurses have also challenged the board's make-up and a recent election that kept in place board members who wanted to maintain the status quo. After members objected to alleged misconduct surrounding a board election earlier this year, Paik and Pigao Cadiz said, the U.S. Department of Labor began an investigation. Eventually, they said, the union agreed to hold the election again under the supervision of federal officials, although the Department of Labor never filed formal charges.
Regardless of what happens in that election, Paik said, the Kaiser nurses are leaving.
"It's over for the Kaiser nurses," she said. "We're moving ahead."