Tacoma General nurses rally for better health care, fair contract


Safe patient care top issue in contentious contract negotiations

TACOMA -- (Sept. 8, 2016) The WSNA-represented registered nurses at Tacoma General Hospital rallied in Tacoma’s Wright Park today to demand that MultiCare Tacoma General leadership address the patient safety and staffing issues they continue to raise in contract negotiations.

“The registered nurses of Tacoma General, are fighting to make sure you – our patients and our community – get safe, high quality care,” said Terry Surratt, RN, a member of the contract negotiations team who has worked at Tacoma General for more than two decades.

Hundreds of nurses, community members, MultiCare physicians, labor and elected leaders gathered to call for better from one of the largest health care providers in Pierce County.

The registered nurses at Tacoma General Hospital, represented by the Washington State Nurses Association, head back to the bargaining table for negotiation sessions on September 14 and 16. Safe patient care is the top issue for nurses in these negotiations. MultiCare Tacoma General continues to turn a deaf ear to the patient safety and staffing issues raised by nurses and, in fact, is proposing changes to the contract that raise serious patient safety concerns.

MultiCare has repeatedly committed unfair labor practices against the nurses at Tacoma General, engaging in illegal surveillance of peaceful union activities, interfering with WSNA’s communications with the nurses, unilaterally imposing changes in nurses’ terms and conditions of employment without bargaining with the Union, and refusing to provide information requested by the Union that it needs to represent the nurses effectively.

“This is one of the most difficult contract negotiations I have seen in my years as Director of Labor for WSNA,” said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN. “MultiCare’s actions in negotiations, in the hospital and in court have been extraordinarily poor.”

Top issues at the negotiating table include:

  • Safe Staffing: Without enough nurses on the floor, RNs can’t give their patients the attention they require. With one of the healthiest profit margins in the business – averaging 12.6% between 2009 and 2013 – Tacoma General can afford to give its patients the safe nurse staffing they deserve
  • Wages and benefits that recruit and retain good nurses: Tacoma General will not be able to meet their staffing needs without recruiting and retaining good nurses. That takes competitive wages and benefits.
  • Real rest breaks: Tacoma General is defying an arbitrator’s order by continuing to use “break buddies” to cover rest breaks. Now they want to get these same “break buddies” the arbitrator found don’t work into the nurses’ contract! The truth is, expecting a nurse to take a double patient load – even for only 15 minutes – is not safe. On top of that, Tacoma General is pushing in negotiations for “intermittent breaks.” Under state law, a nurse must be fully relieved from duty before leaving a patient, including relaying pertinent information to another RN. In a hospital setting like Tacoma General, intermittent breaks are impossible.
  • Rest between shifts: The hospital wants to decrease time off between shifts to a mere 7 hours for nurses who work 12-hour shifts. This is a serious safety concern.
  • Floating: The hospital wants to “float” nurses outside their clinical groups into areas where they lack specialized expertise. This, too is a patient safety concern.

About WSNA
WSNA is the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing union representation and trainings that allow nurses to reach their full professional potential and focus on caring for patients. WSNA represents more than 17,000 registered nurses who provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools and community and public health settings across the state.