SEATTLE – Seattle Children’s nurses on Thursday night voted to approve a new three-year contract that includes significant raises over the next year, particularly for newly graduated nurses.
The new Children’s contract is a result of 12 bargaining sessions, an informational picket and hundreds of hours of negotiation, as hospital nurses fought for higher wages, more generous leaves of absence and clearer language around meal and rest breaks. The vote to approve passed “overwhelmingly,” said Bobbi Nodell, a spokesperson for the Washington state Nurses Association which represents Children’s nurses.
According to the contract, all nurses will receive a $6 per hour raise over the first year, an additional $4 per hour increase in the second year and 3% raise in the third year.
By the end of the third year, the final year of the contract, the base rate for nurses will have increased 31%, from a current rate of $36.21 per hour to $47.60. Senior nurses, meanwhile, will jump from about $77.18 per hour to $89.80 by August 2024.
“While we wish we could have garnered even more, we want to recognize that the incredible turn-out at the picket and our solidarity in the workplace empowered us to aim high, act boldly, and win unprecedented raises,” WSNA said in a statement after the tentative agreement was reached a few weeks ago.
Many on the hospital’s bargaining committee said they felt relief. The ratification comes after more than two years of deep concerns from health care workers in the region, most targeted at staff shortages and inadequate working conditions, like high nurse-to-patient ratios and a lack of breaks.
“These are by far the highest raises we’ve ever gotten in any of the previous negotiating teams we’ve been on,” said Kara Yates, a 12-year registered nurse at Children’s who’s served on three previous bargaining committees. “I am excited mostly from the perspective of being able to retain nurses. It’s less about the actual money and more about the fact that we currently still do have over 400 of our 2,000 positions that are vacant.”
The contract goes into effect Monday.
Children’s spokesperson Jeanine Takala said in a statement the new contract will “enhance safety, retention and recruitment, and recognizes the dedication, professionalism and quality of the 1,700-person nursing team at Seattle Children’s as well as the extraordinary circumstances they have been working under throughout the pandemic.”
She added that the hospital appreciates the bargaining committee’s and union’s hard work throughout negotiations.
In the past, wages at Children’s have generally increased by a percentage, rather than a dollar amount, Yates said. But she pointed to an analysis her team did of hospital raises that show the top of the scale has grown by about 120% in past decades, while the bottom part of the scale increased by about 80%.
“Instead of it coming up in an incremental amount for the bottom and the top, [the gap] just slowly widened,” Yates said. “So instead of basing it off percentages, we looked at doing a flat dollar increase so it’d be the same across the board and equally lift the entire scale.”
In addition, the contract added a “wage scale lookback,” meaning nurses will now get paid salaries that more accurately reflect their years of experience at Children’s, said Erin Doyle, a member of the bargaining committee who’s worked as a Children’s registered nurse for the past two-and-a-half years.
Previously, Doyle said, a nurse advanced on the wage scale based on the number of hours they worked that year but only if they hit a certain number of hours. As a result, anyone who worked part-time, took parental leave or got sick for an extended period would not be eligible to progress on the wage scale that year.
Now, all nurses will advance on the scale on their work anniversary every year, regardless of how many hours they worked.
“That’s huge,” Doyle said. A number of nurses, for example, might have worked at Children’s for 30 years, but are getting paid the salary of someone who’s been at the hospital 20 years, she said. “That’s going to be a momentous jump.”
Despite feelings of triumph and relief, many nurses know there’s more work to be done before fully resolving staffing issues at Children’s, said Edna Cortez, who’s worked at the hospital as a registered nurse for 32 years.
“Many nurses cannot afford to live in Seattle,” she said. “I’m one of them. I’m a single woman who has to live north of Seattle, and it takes me 40 minutes to travel in.”
The first step for the hospital, Cortez said, is to offer competitive wages and hopefully prevent further workforce losses and attract more nurses to fill gaps.
“(The contract) is not going to fix everything,” Doyle added. “This is really just to stop the bleed of losing our nurses to other states and other areas, and now we can start transfusing and really start to build on it.”
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