Local 5 members joined striking nurses on the picket lines Dec. 23 at Queen's Medical Center. Cora Quinesares, right, Estrella Yanit and others waved at passing cars.

7% of nurses
abandon strike,
go back to work

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

As strikes drag on in their fifth week at three Honolulu hospitals, more than 100 nurses have returned to work, but union officials say morale remains high among the majority who continue their walkout.

According to human resources officials at St. Francis, Queen's and Kuakini medical centers, at least 104 RNs involved in contract disputes have returned to their jobs. That represents roughly 7 percent of about 1,400 nurses who walked off the job on Dec. 2 - 3.

Just two of the 225 striking nurses at Kuakini Medical Center have crossed the picket lines. At Queen's, officials say at least 60 of about 800 striking nurses have returned to work.

St. Francis reports 42 of about 340 striking nurses are back on the job, but most of them never had to cross a picket line to return to work. The majority of those nurses are employees of the hospital's home care program, which dispatches nurses to residences, or residential hospice facilities, in Ewa Beach and Nuuanu.

Officials with the nurses' union said the relatively low number of nurses who have crossed the picket line reflects the strikers' solidarity.

"For a month into the strike for those numbers to be holding that well is really a tribute to the resolve those nurses have," said Sue Scheider, the collective bargaining director for the Hawaii Nurses Association. "It would certainly be a lot easier for them to go back into the hospital and pick up a paycheck than be out in the hot sun."

Scheider said union members who return to work could face disciplinary action. Some union members have resigned their memberships to avoid steep fines -- their entire earnings for each day of line-crossing labor.

"We don't like to impose fines," said David Haga, a member of Kuakini's negotiating team and an intensive care nurse there. "But why should these individuals who are scabbing benefit from the nurses who are striking?"

Union leaders say fines are not the biggest thing to fear.

"The biggest consequence is how co-workers treat people who haven't honored the strike and go back to work," Scheider said. "I've seen those people in the past be totally shunned by nurses. For decades they don't forget."

Some nurses say line-crossers are entering hospitals in areas not manned by picketers. Officials on both sides of the dispute say they have not heard of any specific instances of hostility toward striking nurses who returned to work.

While some nurses have returned to their jobs, an unspecified number have taken temporary or permanent nursing positions at other hospitals, either in Hawaii or the mainland. While the exact number is unknown, some estimates put it between 80 and 100 last week.

All three hospitals have announced returns to the bargaining table.

The Queen's Medical Center will resume talks today. Tomorrow, St. Francis officials will meet with union members for the first time in more than a month. And on Monday, Kuakini will hold a bargaining session.

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

Hawaii Nurses Association

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