Battles at the negotiation table pay off

This story was published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Washington Nurse magazine.

Battles at the negotiation table pay off

The negotiating team for the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center local unit (left to right): WSNA attorney Pamela Chandron, Didi Gray, Erica Ostenson, Deb Krenzler, Melissa Smithdeal, Gretchen Ruff, Erin Irwin, Shanta Gervickas and Mark Bolen, April 10, 2021.

Despite the challenges of virtual negoti­a­tions during a pandemic, WSNA members are organizing and mobilizing to win great contract settle­ments across the state. Congrat­u­la­tions to these local units who have fought for and won new contracts so far this year (as of July 2021).

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Two Overlake nurses show off their PPE in the Facebook group.

WSNA members at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue turned to social media to keep WSNA-repre­sented nurses informed of progress at the bargaining table and mobilize them to take action in support of the bargaining team when the pandemic made in-person gather­ings difficult.

The contract campaign slogan, Overlake doesn’t work without RNs,” set the tone for negoti­a­tions. The bargaining team recorded video messages to WSNA-repre­sented nurses after every bargaining session and posted them to a closed Facebook group. The video messages, in addition to other commu­ni­ca­tions, allowed RNs to hear directly from their colleagues about the issues being negoti­ated. When manage­ment pushed a PTO proposal that would have stripped PTO accrual by 33% and limited nurses’ abili­ties to use the PTO they have, bargaining team members again turned to social media and recorded a video call to action during a negoti­a­tions caucus and posted it to the Facebook Group. Overlake RNs responded by talking to coworkers about the proposal takeaways and increasing workplace visibility in support of the bargaining team. By the end of the day, manage­ment backed off and an agree­ment was reached.

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At Island Hospital in Anacortes, WSNA members said, We will not give in, nor will we give up!” when manage­ment proposed increasing the low census cap, increasing per diem require­ments and creating standby oblig­a­tions without associ­ated standby pay.

Local unit officers hosted virtual infor­ma­tion sessions and launched a working condi­tions survey to arm the bargaining team with real-time infor­ma­tion from WSNA-repre­sented nurses to present to manage­ment at the bargaining table. Nurses stick­ered up, posted photos on social media with the hashtag #Suppor­t­Is­landRNs, and distrib­uted and posted car and yard signs to demon­strate solidarity with the bargaining team.

After three months of bargaining and seven negoti­a­tion sessions, Island nurses voted overwhelm­ingly in support of a contract that included a 10.5% wage increase over three years and no increase in low census cap hours. Manage­ment also withdrew their proposal to increase per diem work require­ments and keep nurses on standby without standby pay.

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On April 10, 2021, hundreds of nurses from PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and their supporters held a rally for safe staffing at Vancouver Waterfront Park.

Nurses at Peace­Health South­west Medical Center in Vancouver went into negoti­a­tions saying: We will fight for a fair and just contract and won’t settle for less.”

The coron­avirus pandemic disrupted the order of all things; for nurses at South­west, that included negoti­a­tions for their successor agree­ment. The WSNA bargaining team met in February 2020 — just weeks before the pandemic hit Washington state. After reaching an agree­ment on a one-year interim contract, the bargaining team was back at the virtual” table to bargain a full agree­ment in January 2021.

The bargaining team was laser-focused on improving staffing by retaining and attracting nurses, and the bargaining proposals from WSNA supported that goal. After eight bargaining sessions, manage­ment still insisted on 1.5% increases for each year of the three-year contract. They provided no response to WSNA’s proposals to increase floating premium, charge pay, night shift differ­en­tial or premiums for certi­fi­ca­tion and advanced degree pay. Manage­ment also proposed elimi­nating seniority rights when bidding for vacations.

The proposals from manage­ment disre­spected nurses who had liter­ally put their lives on the line during the pandemic, and WSNA members responded by mobilizing in support of the bargaining team.

Bargaining team members and WSNA staff rounded the facility, talking to nurses one-on-one during every shift about management’s proposals and the need to increase pressure on the employer. Nurses signed a petition commit­ting to attend a rally for a fair contract and helped circu­late the petition for others to sign.

On April 10, hundreds of nurses and allies from other unions and the commu­nity attended the rally for a fair contract. Local Unit Co-Chair Didi Gray, RN, summed up what the struggle was about: We are fighting for our patients and our commu­nity. Safe nurse staffing allows us to provide the highest-quality care to our friends, neigh­bors and commu­nity members every time they are in the hospital.”

The rally, increased nurse activity in the hospital, and commu­nity support of the bargaining team paid off. On April 26, in a last effort to secure a settle­ment before bringing in a federal mediator, a tenta­tive agree­ment was reached.

The agree­ment included no takeaways and was overwhelm­ingly ratified by the member­ship. The agree­ment included many wins, like:

  • Across-the-board increases of 9% over three years, and two $500 signing bonuses.
  • Increased compen­sa­tion for extra shifts, and increases in call pay, holiday call pay, relief charge, resource and night differ­en­tial. A new wage step was also added.
  • Manda­tory call age reduc­tions by one year.
  • Removal of cap on maximum PTO accruals.

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The Providence VNA Home Health local unit negotiating team (left to right): Felisha White, Rachel Morgan, local unit chair Kathleen Thompson, grievance officer Marilee Naddy and treasurer Lisa Figg, June 15, 2021.

Hands off our PTO/EIB!” For three Provi­dence facil­i­ties in the Spokane area, paid time off was a bargaining priority.

St. Luke’s Rehabil­i­ta­tion Medical Center and VNA Home Health aimed to preserve contract language on tradi­tional PTO and extended illness banks (EIB), while Holy Family Hospital focused on tradi­tional vacation and sick leave. The emergence of these key issues was not surprising; after all, the threat of elimi­nating tradi­tional vacation and sick leave, as well as tradi­tional PTO/EIB, and replacing it with PTO and a short-term disability plan was the issue that brought Sacred Heart Medical Center nurses and other Provi­dence-repre­sented workers across the state to the brink of a strike in early 2020.

Nurses at all three facil­i­ties success­fully resisted changes to these benefits during the life of the negoti­ated agree­ment. In addition to preserving leave benefits, nurses at all three facil­i­ties negoti­ated across-the-board wage increases — as well as other enhance­ments specific to each facility.

St. Luke’s nurses were able to secure new hire credit for previous work experi­ence and meaningful protec­tions against negative changes to their health care plans. They also secured enhanced language on retire­ment benefits, sever­ance pay and leave of absences.

VNA Home Health nurses negoti­ated signif­i­cant improve­ments to the wage scale, in addition to across-the-board increases to better recruit and retain great nurses. Other negoti­a­tion achieve­ments included adding Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an additional holiday, improving retire­ment plans avail­able to nurses, and securing signif­i­cant increases in tuition reimbursement.

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UWMC – Montlake local unit co-chair Chris Jakubowski.

Univer­sity of Washington Medical Center — Montlake nurses won signif­i­cant raises and beat back manda­tory floating between facilities.

Nurses at UWMC — Montlake identi­fied wages and closing the wage gap between UWMC and other Seattle hospi­tals as top prior­i­ties for 2021 – 2023 negoti­a­tions. Going into bargaining, two other unions repre­senting workers at the facility had already settled contracts that included no increases for the same two-year period.

WSNA’s bargaining team completed exten­sive research on the wage gap with other competing hospi­tals in the area to make their case at the bargaining table. WSNA-repre­sented nurses mobilized in support of the bargaining team by sharing their economic hardship stories, attending local unit meetings, joining a new Facebook Group, showing support by wearing WSNA buttons and badge buddies — and, most impor­tantly, by keeping their coworkers informed and engaged.

Solidarity among RNs demon­strated to manage­ment that they were bargaining with all nurses at UWMC — Montlake, not just the eight members on the bargaining team. That mobiliza­tion moved the employer off their original offer of no pay increases over two years to 8% over two years.

We are WSNA. Local Unit Co-Chair Chris Jakubowski said, All nurses at UW Montlake make up WSNA Montlake — and as part of WSNA, we are part of over 19,000 nurses in Washington. These numbers give us our power.”