Nurses at St. Francis Medical Center tonight ratified a three-year contract, signaling the end of a seven-week strike that hobbled three of Honolulu’s largest hospitals. The St. Francis vote comes two days after nurses at Queen’s Medical Center ratified their tentative contract, and a little over a week after nurses at Kuakini Medical Center settled their contract dispute.
The St. Francis contract calls for an 18 percent raise over three years and is the most modest of the three, reflecting the facility’s financial problems. The nurses at Queen’s and Kuakini will get a 21 percent raise and a 20 percent raise over three years, respectively.
More than 300 nurses were affected at St. Francis, and the negotiations guided by a federal mediator ultimately guaranteed nurses no job cuts, access to retirement insurance, and clarified overtime policies. Later talks also netted an unusual concession from hospital management that allows nurses that resigned during the strike to get their jobs back.
In the waning days of the strike, several nurses said they had to find work elsewhere to make ends meet.
“The hospital’s willingness to meet us half way is sending a clear message that they finally realized the value of these skilled nurses,” said Claudine Tomasa, the nurses’ chief negotiator. “Although several RNs have already taken permanent jobs at other area hospitals, the successful resolution to the strike should keep St. Francis Liliha operational.”
At Queen’s, the vote was a closer call. Many Queen’s nurses were frustrated that one of their key concerns the hospital’s Paid Time Off (PTO) system that requires nurses to use their vacation time for part of the time they’re on sick leave had not been addressed in the contract. A spokesman with the Hawaii Nurses Association said that while patient care should not be affected, the ability of Queen’s to recruit quality nurses will be diminished.
“The Queen’s Medical Center board of directors and management should not take too great a satisfaction with this contract ratification,” said HNA Communications Director Scott Foster. “Queen’s Medical Center is no longer the ’employer of choice’ for Hawaii’s nurses.”
In addition to the 21 percent raise, Foster said, the Queen’s contract did net nurses “modest improvements” to mandatory overtime, and significant improvements in wages, wage progression, retiree medical benefits and differentials.
In all, more than 1,400 nurses were on strike at the three hospitals since early December. Looking back, HNA Collective Bargaining Director Sue Scheider said improving wages and benefits was only part of the story, and that patient safety and the state of the nursing profession overall was always at the forefront of the nurses’ minds.
Above all, she said, it brought nurses closer together.
“I personally believe that the greatest difference these three strikes made… is the change in the attitudes and the expectations of the nurses themselves,” Scheider said. “Dozens of nurses previously inactive in the union stepped up to organize their colleagues, to develop communications, plan activities, schedule and staff picket lines, and to shape and deliver their message to the public.”