Nurses’ reaction mixed
to tentative deal
with Queen’s

The contract enacts a 21 percent
raise and a paid time-off program

By Lyn Danninger

Striking nurses outside the Queen's Medical Center gave mixed reviews to a tentative deal between the union and the hospital as details made their way along the picket line yesterday.

The two sides reached a deal early yesterday, with the Hawaii Nurses Association conceding on one of its primary issues. The three-year pact would provide a 21 percent raise but would enact a paid time-off program -- which nurses adamantly opposed.

Nurses on the picket line in front of Queen's yesterday afternoon said they were relieved that an agreement had been reached.

But most also said they were not sure they would vote to ratify it.

"I'm undecided. I know Queen's has a lot of money," said Kathy Serikaku, a 17-year nurse. "It's not a good contract."

The sticking point for the nurses remains Queen's paid time-off plan, which would combine a portion of sick leave with paid vacation and holiday time.

"The PTO is very punitive; it treats us like children," Barbara Wildern said.

"Once you get the PTO in, it's hard to get out," Lita Malenky said. "We've heard that from nurses at other hospitals that have it."

Queen's said it needs the program to curb an excessive amount of sick time at the facility.

Caroldean Kahue, the chief negotiator for Queen's nurses, acknowledged nurses' anger over the issue.

"The only pitfall in the contract was PTO, but at least there were modifications to it," Kahue said. "PTO has been there from the beginning, and the employer was adamant they were going to get their PTO."

Modifications to the plan allow nurses who require hospitalization or surgery to access sick days from a bank of hours reserved for extended sick leave rather than from the paid time-off pool, she said.

Similarly, a nurse caring for a relative with an illness covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act would also be exempted for a year from using the PTO bank after using the first 24 hours of PTO time.

But nurses said they had wanted the same exemptions included for workers' compensation injuries and chronic illness.

"If you get scabies from a patient, of course you can't come to work," Malenky said. "So why should you have to use vacation for something you caught at work?"

Kahue hopes other advancements the union made will help take the sting out of the items it could not get.

"There were improvements in numerous other areas, such as the employer agreeing to retain the current retirement plan," she said.

"They also agreed on the third year of the agreement to provide medical coverage for retirees. The other thing we were able to secure was language relating to mandatory overtime, whereby there is a cap on hours."

The hospital also agreed to make use of volunteers and staffing agency nurses before resorting to mandatory overtime.

Other highlights of the agreement include a 21 percent salary increase over three years -- 8 percent the first year, followed by 6 percent and 7 percent.

Nurses will also get an additional $1 an hour for every five years employed at the hospital, up to 15 years.

Nurses with advanced skills will see their hourly rate increased, Kahue said.

Kahue said despite not getting everything the nurses wanted, the negotiating committee is recommending ratification. No date has been set for a vote, she said.

The union and the hospital must still agree on a transition plan to return the nurses to work.

Queen's spokeswoman Lynn Kenton said the hospital is required to give its replacement nurses seven days' notice prior to contract termination.

Should the striking nurses ratify the contract, Queen's is planning a program to reintegrate them into hospital operations, Kenton said.

The union and the hospital will schedule a meeting, likely next week, to discuss arrangements for the nurses' return, Kahue said.

The union also plans to hold informational meetings to explain details of the agreement prior to holding a ratification vote.

The tentative deal at Queen's was the second for the union in two days.

Kuakini Medical Center and its nurses reached a three-year agreement on Tuesday. A ratification vote is set for tomorrow at the Laborers International Union headquarters on Palama Street, said Hawaii Nurses Association spokesman Scott Foster.

St. Francis Medical Center is now the only hospital without a tentative agreement.

No new talks have been scheduled.

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

Hawaii Nurses Association

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