More than 800 nurses at Queen's Medical Center began picketing this morning. They joined about 300 striking nurses at Kuakini and St. Francis hospitals.

Queen’s nurses strike

The rejected contract offer expands
the walkout to 3 hospitals
Striking nurses say paid time off
and safe staffing are concerns

Lawsuit seeks return of St. Francis nurses

By Lyn Danninger and Genevieve Suzuki |

Waves and cheers from nurses picketing in front of Queen's Medical Center this morning greeted drivers who tooted their horns at the "Honk if you love nurses" signs.

Nathan Shimokawa, a registered nurse for 10 years, was not surprised by the show of public support.

"Everyone on this island has someone who's been taken care of by a nurse," he said, adding "I don't think we're asking for the world."

Traffic was snarled by late morning on Punchbowl Street today as the more than 800 nurses in the Queen's bargaining unit began picketing.

This is Peter Massey's first strike, although he is an experienced nurse.

"It was not an easy decision because I'm not exactly rich," he said, but the issue of paid time off was the sticking point for him.

Nurses are at high risk for illnesses, and he would like to see a better sick leave policy than management has offered, said Massey.

In rejecting their contract offer yesterday, nurses from Queen's joined their counterparts from Kuakini and St. Francis, who began walking the picket line yesterday morning.

Bill Richter, a negotiator for the Hawaii Nurses Association, said the rank and file rejected the offer because the hospital did not adequately address paid time off, safe staffing levels, recruitment and retention.

Massey expected the walkout to last at least two weeks, as that is the term of the contract Queen's has signed with mainland replacement nurses.

Queen's spokeswoman Lynn Kenton would not comment on that assertion.

Negotiations between the nurses and Queen's management broke off at 8 p.m. Saturday. While wages and other benefits have moved closer to what the nurses wanted, union representatives said the other issues remained.

"We're certainly disappointed that the nurses have rejected our offer, which was a very generous and fair proposal," said Queen's President Art Ushijima.

The organization has flown in 300 nurses from the mainland and will use nurses who are not part of the union. Queen's did not have an estimate on how much it would cost to hire the nurses.

The hospital also intends to continue admitting patients and will maintain all inpatient and outpatient services as scheduled, said Kenton.

Trauma center and emergency services will not be affected by the strike, said Dr. Peter Halford, chief of staff. But, he said, if Queen's takes on an increase in patients diverted from other hospitals, it may have to eliminate elective surgeries.

Nurses continued to picket Kuakini and St. Francis.

Nurses picketed yesterday outside St. Francis Medical Center, which has stopped admitting patients but is continuing its dialysis and hospice programs. Nurses also walked picket lines at Kuakini Medical Center, which remains open with the help of contract nurses. Picket lines at Queen's Medical Center are due to go up at 7 this morning.

"It has more to do with quality patient care and keeping nurses at the bedside," said registered nurse Angela Cathers, who was walking the picket line at St. Francis yesterday. "That overrides everything."

No new talks have been scheduled with the two hospitals.

About 30 union nurses reported to work yesterday at St. Francis Medical Center, the hospital's dialysis and hospice facilities and its home care program, said St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett.

St. Francis employs about 370 registered nurses; Kuakini, more than 200.

Jarrett said St. Francis stopped admitting patients early last week and discontinued outpatient and inpatient surgeries. Ambulances diverted patients to other area hospitals, although the hospital emergency room is open to walk-in patients who would either be treated and released or stabilized and transferred to other Oahu hospitals, she said.

Because St. Francis treats about 1,000 patients in its dialysis program, most of the hospital's 10 facilities remain open with the exception of clinics in West Kauai and Kahana, Maui, Jarrett said.

Patients treated at those facilities would instead be transported to Lihue or Wailuku, according to the hospital, she said.

St. Francis' dialysis facilities are being staffed by a limited number of nonunion registered nurses and support staff. Likewise, nonunion nurses and support staff would continue to care for about 400 patients in St. Francis hospice and home care programs, the hospital said.

Earlier yesterday, St. Francis filed a complaint in state Circuit Court asking the court to grant a temporary restraining order. Jarrett said the order would allow essential union nurses to continue to provide care for its hospice, renal dialysis and organ transplant patients.

At Kuakini Medical Center there are no plans to cut services, spokeswoman Donda Spiker said.

"All services are open; the emergency room is open," she said.

Kuakini has so far brought in about 20 contract nurses to work at its facilities, Spiker said.

"We are phasing in contract nurses as we need them," she said.

Spiker said so far no meetings with union negotiators have been scheduled.

Earlier in the week, nurses at Kaiser Foundation Hospital and Kapiolani Medical Center reached tentative agreements with the hospitals. A ratification vote is scheduled for sometime in the next few days, according to union officials.

Hawaii Nurses Association

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