Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), representing over 650 registered nurses at Tacoma General Hospital, is holding an informational picket today highlighting issues critical to patient safety and nurse retention during difficult contract negotiations. Nurses at Tacoma General have been fighting to have a meaningful voice on patient care issues and battling devastating retirement benefit cuts at the bargaining table. Nurses are concerned about patient safety and the ability to continue recruiting and retaining great nurses at Tacoma General.
The administration continues to resist the nurses’ input on important safety issues like rest between shifts and nurse staffing. Nurses are greatly concerned about management’s ability to move nurses to different units or specialties at their discretion, without procedures in place to ensure that nurses are adequately trained and oriented. Nurses are also strongly advocating that charge nurses, the nurses who manage nursing staff during a shift, are staff nurses not managers. Charge nurses must be able to step in and provide patient care when necessary, adding to the expertise on the floor and increasing patient safety.
“Every nurse here cares deeply about giving our patients safe and quality care, but the skills you need in labor and delivery are not the same as the ones you use in the emergency room. We want to make sure that when you come to the hospital, you have the best possible care and that means nurses who have the right skills and experience to meet your specific needs,” said Terry Surratt, RN, a nurse at Tacoma General Hospital.
Nurses are concerned about the impact these negotiations will have on retention of nurses at Tacoma General. Management has proposed a drastic cut to the retirement benefits of over 200 experienced nurses at the hospital. In 2002, Tacoma General made sweeping changes to their retirement benefits. Many nurses were grandfathered into a defined benefits program at that time and the administration promised their retirement benefits would be there for them in the future. Now, the administration is trying to reverse their position and freeze the defined benefits program, even for those nurses who have been paying into it for decades and planning on those benefits for retirement.
“You need great nurses to be a great hospital. Management’s proposals are just blatantly disrespectful to the nurses who have invested years and even decades at this hospital. Ten years ago, this hospital made a promise to these nurses and we reached a good faith agreement based on that pledge. With these cuts, they’re pulling the rug out from under their feet and taking away the incentive for these nurses to stay and finish their careers here. Tacoma General could lose dozens of experienced, skilled nurses and that’s a problem for the patients here and this community as a whole,” said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, WSNA Assistant Executive Director of Labor Relations.