Nurses approve
hospital contract

The seven-week strike ends
at St. Francis with both sides happy

By Sally Apgar

The nurses of St. Francis Medical Center overwhelmingly ratified a new contract last night, finally ending a seven-week strike that at its height affected three major hospitals and almost 1,400 nurses.

Sue Scheider, collective bargaining director for the Hawaii Nurses Association, said, "While we achieved long-overdue major improvements to wages and benefits needed to keep sufficient, experienced nurses providing care to Hawaii's patients, we also accomplished additional safeguards addressing patient safety and professional nursing practice."

St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett said, "We're very pleased that the agreement has been ratified and look forward to our nurses returning to work in the near future."

It was not immediately clear last night how soon nurses would return to work. Return dates will be given to nurses as the hospital gears back up to full operation.

"I am definitely pleased with the agreement," said Merelene Jose, 30, a staff nurse at St. Francis for the last seven years. "Seven weeks was definitely worth what we struck for and won."

Irene Robert, 65, a cardiac unit nurse who has worked for St. Francis for 41 years, was also pleased with the agreement and ready to go back to work. Robert said that the hospital is her "second home" but that it was necessary to strike to address patient care and safety issues stemming from low staffing levels and mandatory overtime.

"I think we have the problems all solved now," said Robert.

In a statement, the HNA said, "The new contract provides nurses with 'nearly competitive' salary increases of 18 percent over three years (with the bulk provided after the first year) while still recognizing the hospital's current financial problems."

Historically, St. Francis nurses have earned less than their counterparts at other hospitals.

Last Thursday, negotiators for St. Francis and HNA met with a federal mediator and reached a tentative three-year agreement that calls for a 4 percent salary increase the first year, a 6 percent increase the second year and an 8 percent increase the last year.

The length of the contract had been a sticking point. St. Francis management, which is working through the second year of a financial turnaround, had wanted a one-year contract so it could assess the hospital's financial recovery before setting future wage increases. The nurses wanted a three-year contract.

Since some nurses resigned during the strike, the return-to-work agreement gives them the chance to reconsider that choice if they contact the hospital by tomorrow. Jarrett did not know how many nurses had actually resigned.

St. Francis laid off almost 100 other employees because of the strike. Last night, Jarrett said some of those workers have returned but that no decision has been made about the others.

Nurses at the Queen's Medical Center ratified a new contract Thursday that provides a 21 percent wage increase over three years.

On Jan. 10, nurses at Kuakini Medical Center ratified a contract that gives its 210 registered nurses a pay raise of 20 percent over the next three years.

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

Hawaii Nurses Association

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