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Talks Between Nurses, Sacred Heart Collapse Union Plans Sunday Rally And Informational Picketing

Contract talks between nurses and management at Sacred Heart Medical Center have broken down.

A federal mediator ended negotiations at midnight Tuesday after 15 hours of talks. No more bargaining sessions are scheduled.

Nurses are preparing for a rally and informational picketing next week.

“We did have some progress yesterday with some (contract) language changes but didn’t have enough to move us off of the remaining issues,” said administrator Carol Sheridan, vice president of nursing at Sacred Heart.

Those issues include staffing concerns, wages, on-call requirements and mandatory membership in the Washington State Nurses Association, the union that represents the nurses.

The hospital’s more than 1,100 registered nurses have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. They overwhelmingly rejected management’s contract offer earlier this month.

The nurses have scheduled informational picketing on Monday and Tuesday. The nurses will continue to work their regular shifts and picket around the hospital intermittently on their own time.

“The bargaining unit was disappointed we couldn’t come to a resolution,” said Barbara Heimbigner, co-chairwoman of the Sacred Heart unit of the Washington State Nurses Association. “We tried, and we didn’t make it.”

Nurses also plan to have a citywide rally from 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Cowley Park, near the Heart Institute. There will be a candlelight vigil after the rally.

After the pickets and the rally, the nurses will evaluate their next step - more pickets, a move back to the bargaining table, or even a strike. Nurses must give the hospital 10 days’ notice if they decide to strike.

Sheridan said administrators hope contract talks will resume. She said the mood has been tense in the hospital during the negotiations.

“Certainly, there are emotions on both sides,” Sheridan said.

The issues that nurses and administrators are grappling with are similar to those at hospitals nationwide.

Sacred Heart nurses want to have input on proposed staffing changes, and they want that input process set in writing. They’re trying to ensure that the hospital doesn’t endanger patient safety by replacing licensed staff with unlicensed workers.

“The issue is, do we have a say in how this is done?” Heimbigner said. “We’re asking that when they need to do changes, they talk with us.”

On Tuesday, administrators proposed language that would include nurses in talks on any staffing changes. But the language still hasn’t been settled, Sheridan said.

Nurses also want to ensure that the hospital doesn’t require them to be on mandatory call to cover for nursing shortages. Mandatory call would require nurses to be available to work on their off-hours.

Administrators say any nurses who work in departments that may have mandatory call can look at working in other departments without mandatory call. Administrators also say mandatory call is necessary in departments with skilled staff, who must be available at a moment’s notice for delicate procedures.

“It’s a real balance to maintain quality and our responsibility to be good stewards of resources and also respecting our staff,” Sheridan said.

Nurses and administrators also differ on proposed salary increases.

Nurses want a 3 percent raise every year for the next three years. Administrators want to give nurses a 1.9 percent raise the first year and then the standard cost-of-living raise for the next two years with a 3 percent cap.

The nurses’ bargaining unit also believes that nurses should be required to belong to the union. Administrators say the nurses should have a choice.

, DataTimes

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