Kuakini, nurses
agree on contract

The settlement still needs to be
ratified by the 210 nurses

By Lyn Danninger

Kuakini Medical Center and the union representing striking nurses reached a tentative settlement this morning after a marathon bargaining session that began at 10 a.m. Monday and ended after 3 this morning.

The settlement still needs to be ratified by the 210 nurses, who will likely vote on Thursday or Friday, union negotiator Kerry Lineham said.

Major points in the settlement include a 20 percent salary increase over the three-year contract, and stronger language addressing the elimination of mandatory overtime and when the hospital would turn to an outside staffing agency to fill vacant positions.

The deal also changes the hospital's plan to eliminate the 36/48-hour two-week work period. The plan would leave the 36 hours in place for the first week and cut the second week to 40 hours, thereby eliminating the need for overtime in the second week.

The hospital had planned to hire additional nurses to cover the lost work time in the second week but nurses were worried that Kuakini would not be able to hire enough nurses to fill the positions. Now the plan will be put into place more gradually, Lineham said.

"It will be tapered off slowly so there won't be a huge drop in nursing hours," he said.

The nurses didn't get everything they wanted. The hospital had proposed a separate medical plan for retirees not yet eligible for the federal Medicare program. The nurses had wanted the retirees to be included in the same plan with active retirees to hold down the cost of premiums. Instead, nurses with 20 years of experience will earn a dollar more an hour so they can save toward retiree health care premiums.

"We didn't get the same group plan but we did get good language to start off with," Lineham said.

Lineham said the proposed contract also contains language that would make it easier for nurses to meet with management over contract issues.

"There was a lot of safeguards to ensure we could meet with the employer at any time if overtime increased or if other issues came up," he said.

Lineham said union negotiators were surprised negotiations progressed so quickly. At 4:30 p.m. yesterday, about 70 nurses called a news conference to complain about the slow pace of the session.

"Everyone was pleased. We were totally shocked they came up with this after the start to the day," Lineham said. "I think the employer realized they needed to get something settled soon."

The hospital later presented a counterproposal that addressed most of the union's issues, particularly in the area of mandatory overtime.

"I know they really worked through our proposal," said Sue Scheider, chief negotiator for the union's collective bargaining organization. "It took them all day to do it."

Kuakini spokeswoman Donda Spiker said the hospital is pleased to have reached an agreement.

"We do hope the nurses will respond favorably to the tentative agreement," she said. "We look forward to our nurses coming back to work."

Nurses will continue to picket in front of the hospital until the contract is ratified.

Lineham said the union would recommend nurses ratify the settlement.

"We are very pleased with it so we'll be recommending it to everyone," he said.

The tentative agreement is the first since strikes began at three Oahu hospitals more than a month ago.

Kuakini nurses walking the picket line this morning said they were optimistic and relieved. Jan Santo, who works with surgical patients, said "it looked like it was going to go on and on" yesterday.

"We are happy we are close to a settlement," Santo said. "I didn't think we were going to get anywhere yesterday morning. We are pleasantly surprised."

Santo, who has worked at Kuakini for more than 30 years, said patients are sicker than in the past and the work is harder.

Palee Sithiyothakarn, who works in the outpatient chemotherapy department, said it has been a struggle living on one income with a mortgage and relying on savings and credit cards.

Sithiyothakarn, who joined Kuakini in 1992, said nurses need to stick together to stand up for patients because of the mandatory overtime and other conditions that interfere with patient safety.

Calling the tentative agreement "happy news," Sithiyothakarn said, "We are so happy with the public, the way they supported us. Heartfelt thanks to them."

Talks between Queen's Medical Center and the nurses were scheduled to re-convene at 1:30 this afternoon. The two sides last met Thursday. Both sides said some progress was made then although major sticking points relating to mandatory overtime, staffing and patient safety, and a proposed paid time off program, which combines vacation days with a portion of sick leave, still remain.

No new talks have been scheduled at St. Francis Medical Center.

Star-Bulletin reporter Helen Altonn contributed to this report.

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

Hawaii Nurses Association

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