Unionized health care workers at Valley and Deaconess hospitals have negotiated a contract agreement after an unprecedented 20 months of talks.
Set hours for staff, a pay raise and changes to sick pay are parts of the new contract that will increase retention among health workers and help improve patient care, union officials said.
“We spent months telling them this is where we are at; we can’t do this anymore – it took a lot of perseverance, a lot of patience and a lot of hours,” said Tami O’Marro, a registered nurse on the negotiating team. “We look forward to working with management on the quality of care and continuing to improve.”
Valley Hospital administrators are ready to move beyond contract talks.
“We are very, very glad to put this negotiation behind us,” said Greg Repetti, interim chief executive officer of Valley Hospital. “We are excited to not have this hanging over our head anymore.”
He added, “I think we finally came to a good mutual agreement with our employees.”
Disagreement regarding staffing levels proved to be the sharpest difference between management and workers.
New language in the contract assures some days off for workers regardless of patient levels, O’Marro said. The charge nurse can also call in people if patient levels go up and he or she thinks the hospital is understaffed.
All workers received a pay increase, and wages for some employee groups are being brought up to market rates, she said. The contract also restores first-day sick pay. Previously, if a worker had accrued more vacation time than sick time, the larger bank of time was used when a person called in sick.
“This seriously helps because if a person wanted to use vacation time, they came in sick,” O’Marro said.
The arduous path to an agreement included a one-day strike in cold weather last December, the first strike involving hospital nurses in Spokane’s history. Registered nurses at Valley Hospital worked without a contract throughout negotiations. Technical workers and hospital staff at both Deaconess and Valley worked under an expired contract for months.
Nurses at Deaconess are no longer represented by Service Employees International Union 1199NW.
“We really want to thank our community,” said Susie Reynolds, a health unit coordinator and a negotiation team member. “They joined us in the picket line.
“It was a rough road, but it was worth it.”