The seven-week strike ends
By Sally Apgar
The nurses of St. Francis Medical Center overwhelmingly ratified a new contract last night, finally ending a seven-week strike that at its height affected three major hospitals and almost 1,400 nurses.
Sue Scheider, collective bargaining director for the Hawaii Nurses Association, said, "While we achieved long-overdue major improvements to wages and benefits needed to keep sufficient, experienced nurses providing care to Hawaii's patients, we also accomplished additional safeguards addressing patient safety and professional nursing practice."
St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett said, "We're very pleased that the agreement has been ratified and look forward to our nurses returning to work in the near future."
It was not immediately clear last night how soon nurses would return to work. Return dates will be given to nurses as the hospital gears back up to full operation.
"I am definitely pleased with the agreement," said Merelene Jose, 30, a staff nurse at St. Francis for the last seven years. "Seven weeks was definitely worth what we struck for and won."
Irene Robert, 65, a cardiac unit nurse who has worked for St. Francis for 41 years, was also pleased with the agreement and ready to go back to work. Robert said that the hospital is her "second home" but that it was necessary to strike to address patient care and safety issues stemming from low staffing levels and mandatory overtime.
"I think we have the problems all solved now," said Robert.
In a statement, the HNA said, "The new contract provides nurses with 'nearly competitive' salary increases of 18 percent over three years (with the bulk provided after the first year) while still recognizing the hospital's current financial problems."
Historically, St. Francis nurses have earned less than their counterparts at other hospitals.
Last Thursday, negotiators for St. Francis and HNA met with a federal mediator and reached a tentative three-year agreement that calls for a 4 percent salary increase the first year, a 6 percent increase the second year and an 8 percent increase the last year.
The length of the contract had been a sticking point. St. Francis management, which is working through the second year of a financial turnaround, had wanted a one-year contract so it could assess the hospital's financial recovery before setting future wage increases. The nurses wanted a three-year contract.
Since some nurses resigned during the strike, the return-to-work agreement gives them the chance to reconsider that choice if they contact the hospital by tomorrow. Jarrett did not know how many nurses had actually resigned.
St. Francis laid off almost 100 other employees because of the strike. Last night, Jarrett said some of those workers have returned but that no decision has been made about the others.
Nurses at the Queen's Medical Center ratified a new contract Thursday that provides a 21 percent wage increase over three years.
On Jan. 10, nurses at Kuakini Medical Center ratified a contract that gives its 210 registered nurses a pay raise of 20 percent over the next three years.
Mar 6, '03
Many of their local newspapers published letters from the striking nurses, copies of which can be read on the Hawaii Nurses Assoc website. Some of them will tug at your heart:
<The forty-five day nursing strike involving over 1400 Registered Nurses will leave its mark on Hawaii for years to come. This was the first time that the RNs in three major hospitals united to take a firm stand against their respective employers to say "NO MORE".
No more will we let patient safety take a backseat;
No more will we be pushed to work 16 hour shifts only to return in several hours to perhaps repeat the same process;
No more will we be forced to work short staffed without our employer finding other staffing means, such as Agency nurses, to fill in the needs of the floors.
This strike was never about the wages, as many people still believe. Unfortunately, many of you in the community will never fully understand our issues unless you have been a patient in one of our hospitals.
Our strike was about you and your future, should you ever need hospitalization. It was so that you do not become added to the statistics (as presented in the October issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association) which states that there are 20,000 patient deaths each year related to the shortage of RNs in the hospitals. Or that you don't become one of the 44,000 to 98,000 patients who die each year due to errors during hospitalization (http://www.iatrogenic.org/index.html).
We still have troubling issues that remain. How to attract students back into nursing colleges. How to keep RNs from burning out and leaving the profession of nursing by the thousands. Nursing agencies in the mainland have tried to tackle the nursing shortage dilemma by robbing other third world countries of their nurses by offering attractive salaries and benefits, thus depleting those poor countries of a commodity that they cannot afford to loose. That is not the answer to our crisis. If there was an easy answer, we would not have a shortage of over 170,000 nursing positions in our hospitals in the United States.
We want to thank you all for your support in our struggle, even if you weren't sure why we were on strike. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words; your waves and honks as you drove by our picket lines. Thank you for all the wonderful food you dropped off to us while we were picketing...the muffins, cookies, pies, pizza, fruit, donuts, and Portuguese bean soup.
We also want to thank the public for your great editorials of support in the newspapers. To those of you who work in ancillary departments in the striking hospitals, we apologize for any hardships you may have encountered during our strike.
During this strike many of us have formed very strong bonds. From this we have developed into committees to help us survive and find some direction. We have planted seeds and watched as roots have deepened and taken hold. We have nourished these roots with ideas only to observe them blossom. We do not have all the answers to existing problems, but through continuing efforts and hard work, we will be fruitful.
To the management of the striking hospitals, consider this a learning experience for us all. Nursing is a very valued profession. Nurses are the foundation on which your hospitals thrive. We can no longer remain dormant; we need to be heard. We must all mend and grow from this experience to make our hospitals flourish...but our patients must always come first.
Carol S. Pagano, RN
The Queen's Medical Center>>
Last edit by -jt on Mar 6, '03