TOM FINNEGAN / TFINNEGAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kauai nurses stood outside Wilcox Hospital yesterday afternoon to thank the Kauai community for its support during their 126-day strike.
Wilcox nurses ratify contract
Many feel vindicated that the deal does address patient safety
LIHUE » After 18 weeks on strike, nurses at Kauai's lone full-service hospital ratified a new three-year contract yesterday.
While many of the Wilcox Hospital nurses said the new contract is not very good, it does address what they said were the main issues: patient safety and the staff-to-patient ratio. The new deal requires administrators to form a joint committee with nurses to come up with a system that works, nurses said.
But after 126 days on the picket line, there was a lot they gave up.
In the new contract, 11 licensed practical-nurse positions were eliminated, although they did receive retirement and severance packages. And the nurses will receive a 21 percent raise through the life of the contract to put them on par with Oahu nurses. The first raise, however, will be delayed for a year.
Before the new patient-safety system is in place, the nurses said, they will be in charge of more patients than what was proposed when they went out on strike.
Over the duration of the strike, a registered nurse making $35 an hour lost a base salary of more than $25,200.
Still, 80 of the 90 nurses voted to support the contract Thursday. About 100 nurses of the 140 originally in the bargaining unit were eligible to vote. About 20 nurses crossed the picket lines, while another 20 retired or resigned to find other jobs.
Nurses are scheduled to return to work next Saturday.
Hospital spokeswoman Lani Yukimura said yesterday that the deal, the hospital's "best and finest," was "a very generous, fair, patient-focused contract" and that the hospital staff "is very happy with the contract ratification."
The nurses said they were happy because while they gave a lot up, safe staffing needs will be addressed.
"We were willing to go through the hardship because the cause was just," said Chris Broussard, nurse negotiating team member.
"It's not about the money; it's about the care," echoed Esther Tunac, another member of the negotiating team. Nurses at "this little hospital had to make a stand."
Broussard and Tunac, who both did not work during the strike, were looking forward to getting back to work. The Kauai nurses have been working at other jobs throughout the state and even the mainland, Tunac said.
But they said they would not stop the fight to maintain patient care through safe staffing. Yukimura said in a written statement that the hospital has always maintained a safe level of nurses for patient care. Still, "our nurses will be working with management to examine the system and make recommendations."
Edie Arrocena, a Wilcox nurse for 15 years, was just glad to be going back to work and not eating any more macaroni and cheese.
"We can't drag this out," she said Thursday after voting to accept the contract. "Everybody needs to go back to take care of their families."