March 7, 1998 in Nation/World

Nurses To Vote On Strike After Talks Fail Sacred Heart And Union Still At Odds Over Mandatory Call And Staffing

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:labor

Contract talks between nurses and management at Sacred Heart Medical Center broke off Friday, and nurses will vote next week on what the hospital calls its final offer.

The 1,100 hospital nurses also will vote on whether to authorize a strike. If they decide to strike, they must give the hospital 10 days’ notice.

Administrators and nurses said they were disappointed with the six-hour negotiating session Thursday night. Both sides said they’d made concessions.

“We bargained in good faith,” said administrator Carol Sheridan, vice president for nursing services. “We were just disappointed in the outcome.”

Both sides inched closer together on the four major issues of mandatory on-call status, input on staffing changes, pay and mandatory union membership.

The major sticking points still seem to be what level of input the nurses would have on mandatory call and staffing.

Nurses will meet to discuss the new offer from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday at the Carpenters Local on West Mission. Nurses can then vote on the contract and on a strike.

Nurses can also vote from 7:30 a.m. to midnight on Wednesday.

“We want to stand firm when it comes to what’s best for our patients and what’s best for our work environment,” said nurse Barbara Heimbigner, co-chairwoman of the Sacred Heart unit of the Washington State Nurses Association.

“We would still like to resolve this without a strike, but we still need to take a stand. We still need to do what’s best for our patients.”

Heimbigner said she was not optimistic that the nurses would accept the contract.

This is probably the most contentious labor dispute that the region’s largest hospital has ever seen.

Nurses held a rally and march in December 1988, but accepted a new contract the next month. In December 1984, nurses actually voted to strike, but the dispute was settled before they walked out.

These negotiations are different. They’ve dragged on for months, punctuated by informational pickets, fierce letters to the editor and newspaper advertisements, and rumors of strike-breakers being bused in from Texas.

Nurses at the hospital have never worked this long without a contract. It expired Dec. 31.

The nurses’ four main issues are similar to those faced at hospitals nationwide.

Nurses want a say on staffing levels. They don’t want to be placed on mandatory call. The union wants all nurses to be members. The nurses want a raise.

Nurses say they accepted management’s contract language on staff levels with one exception.

“We said if there was a disagreement … they would pilot a program and re-evaluate it before it was implemented entirely,” Heimbigner said. “They do not want to accept that.”

Sheridan said nurses would have input several times on any staffing changes. But management has to be able to manage the hospital, she said.

“We really had some philosophical differences,” Sheridan said. “We need to maintain our management rights on the issues related to (mandatory) call and staffing.”

Nurses want the contract to prohibit requiring nurses to be on call. A conference committee with union and management representatives would discuss other ways of handling emergencies besides mandatory call, Heimbigner said.

Administrators proposed language Thursday that says the hospital “does not intend” to use mandatory call in any of the hospital’s inpatient units.

“When it still says, ‘We intend not to use it,’ that’s some language we still have problems with,” Heimbigner said. “It means they can still do whatever they want.”

Both sides also made salary concessions during Thursday’s talks.

Nurses originally wanted a 3 percent raise every year for three years, while administrators offered a 1.9 percent raise the first year and cost-of-living raises the next two years, with a 3 percent annual cap.

On Thursday, nurses said they’d accept a 3 percent raise the first year and cost-of-living raises the next two years, but not less than 2 percent each year.

Administrators offered a 2 percent raise the first year and cost-of-living raise the next two years, with a 3 percent annual cap.

On the issue of union membership, nurses offered a grandfather clause that would require only new nurses to join the union. The hospital still wants no membership requirement.

If the nurses do get enough votes to authorize a strike, they still may decide to negotiate with administrators again before giving a strike notice.

The hospital has made plans in case of a strike, but those plans won’t be made public until necessary, Sheridan said.

“We will be able to take care of our patients in the event of a strike.”

, DataTimes


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email