Nurses and management at Sacred Heart Medical Center reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday.
Hours earlier, nurses overwhelmingly had voted to reject a prior contract offer and authorize a strike.
If an agreement hadn’t been reached Thursday, the nurses probably would have given the hospital a 10-day strike notice.
A management representative said both sides made compromises during the nine-hour bargaining session Thursday.
“We really had hard work on both sides,” said administrator Carol Sheridan, vice president for nursing. “We both feel we have language we’re comfortable with.”
Sheridan said the nurses’ strike vote didn’t make a difference in negotiations.
“That’s a shock to me they would say that,” said nurse Barbara Heimbigner, co-chairwoman of the Sacred Heart unit of the Washington State Nurses Association.
“If that’s true, why did they not settle the contract a long time ago?”
The negotiating session Thursday was the 11th since contract talks began last fall. More than 1,100 registered nurses at Sacred Heart have been working without a contract since Dec. 31.
Negotiations dragged on for months, with hurt feelings on both sides, rumors of imported strike-breakers and nurses’ fears about leaving their patients to go on strike.
About 900 Sacred Heart nurses voted on Monday and Wednesday on the hospital’s prior contract offer and on whether they’d strike.
The union doesn’t plan to reveal actual numbers from the vote - only that nurses “overwhelmingly” rejected the contract offer and voted to authorize a strike.
Nurses will vote on the proposed contract March 20, Heimbigner said.
“We’re real hopeful they’ll ratify that,” Sheridan said.
Nurses won their two major issues, Heimbigner said. They won’t have to be on call if they work on in-patient units. And they have a specific process for having input on any proposed staffing changes.
The new staffing language clarifies the input process, Sheridan said. Nurses will have input on any proposed changes during several steps along the way, and changes will be reviewed.
Nurses want to ensure staffing ratios don’t change, to avoid fewer registered nurses taking on greater patient loads.
Union negotiators gave in on the issues of pay and union membership.
They agreed to allow nurses to choose whether they want to belong to the union. Right now, about 70 percent of Sacred Heart nurses belong to the Washington State Nurses Association.
The union also accepted the hospital’s first-year salary offer, and agreed to limits on cost-of-living raises the second and third years.
“This contract dispute has never been about money,” Heimbigner said. “It has always been about patient care.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Tentative agreement Language in the tentative contract agreement states: Nurses won’t be forced to be on call on any in-patient unit. The union had sought this language, while management proposed language saying the hospital didn’t intend to place nurses on mandatory call. Nurses will have a specific input process on any proposed staffing changes. The union says this process is well-defined and allows evaluation after any changes. Management says this language simply clarifies a process that already exists. Nurses will not be required to belong to the Washington State Nurses Association. The union wanted mandatory membership - or at the least, that new nurses be required to join. Management wanted nurses to be able to choose. Nurses will receive a 2 percent raise the first year. In the next two years, they’ll receive a cost-of-living raise, with a 1.7 percent minimum and a 3 percent maximum. The union had proposed a 3 percent raise the first year and cost-of-living raises the next two years, with a minimum of 2 percent each year and no maximum. Management had proposed a 2 percent raise the first year, and cost-of-living increases the next two years, with a 3 percent maximum and no minimum.