Posted October 20, 2015
Word Of The Day: “Platitude”
Wikipedia defines “Platitude” as a “trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. Platitudes are geared towards presenting a shallow, unifying wisdom over a difficult topic. However, they are too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution.”
On September 24, your fellow nurses on the WSNA team bargained with Management for the 12th day, including 3 days with the assistance of a state-appointed mediator. Whidbey General Hospital has indicated that it is encouraged by the progress thus far, that protracted negotiations are not cause for concern and that multiple ULPs filed by WSNA are par for the course. We, however, believe such sentiment does not do justice to the gravity of the issues at stake at WGH and is a mere Platitude. And while we are told that the administration wishes to move forward and renew a positive relationship with WSNA and the nurses at WGH, we remain concerned that the proposals that Management continues to insist upon at the table do not reflect a serious commitment to address issues that affect the Hospital, its nurses and its patients. This is a shame. With new leadership at the helm, now is the perfect time, not for platitudes, but for WGH to address serious issues seriously and to repair its image with the community. We are concerned that this may be an opportunity lost.
Instead of giving us meaningful solutions to several issues that remain unresolved, Management seems to be fixated on things that have not been issues, responds with mere platitudes to real problems and insists that WSNA simply withdraw all grievances and unfair labor practices without offering any meaningful resolution of the issues that gave rise to the litigation.
Cases in Point:
Management's Baffling "Meeting Rooms" Proposals:
Management came to the table with a number of shocking proposals regarding WSNA’s ability to meet with nurses in WGH meeting rooms. We asked management what problems have arisen in the past regarding WSNA’s use of meeting rooms to meet with nurses. Management did not indicate that there were any problems. Among the Management’s proposals were the following:
“WGH Administration may be permitted to observe or monitor a meeting at any time.”
“Prior to the use of the meeting room, Administration reserves the right to review any signage, decorations or literature to be displayed in the meeting room for compliance with the meeting room policy.”
Monitoring WSNA meetings at any time?! Insisting on prior review of WSNA communications with WGH nurses?! Anyone with even the most basic understanding of proper labor-management relations should understand how inappropriate these proposals are. Although Management later withdrew these specific proposals after WSNA objected, it is still insisting, even after 12 bargaining sessions, on unnecessary constraints on WSNA’s ability to meet with nurses at the Hospital. During these negotiations, even though Management has not indicated any past issue with our use of meeting rooms, we have offered several proposals to alleviate concerns they may have. Still, Management says our accommodations are not enough. Such behavior at the table causes us to question Management’s desire to get a timely resolution. We can only wonder why Management is still fixated on a non-issue when there are other real issues regarding patient care that need addressing.
Intermittent Rest Breaks:
After 12 bargaining sessions, Management is still insisting upon eroding your ability to get meaningful rest breaks. Your fellow nurses on the bargaining team realize how physically and mentally demanding nursing is. Adequate rest is vital to the well-being of nurses and for the safety of our patients. The current contract requires that nurses receive an uninterrupted 15-minute rest break every four hours. Instead of ensuring proper staffing so that nurses may take uninterrupted 15-minute breaks as required by the contract, Management wants to lower the bar and allow for “intermittent” rest breaks. That’s right; instead of getting one meaningful 15-minute rest break, Management wants to give “breaks” of much shorter duration. How much “rest” do you get during a short pit-stop to the bathroom or a quick dash to drink some water? As long as these few minutes of “rest” here and there total 15 minutes in each 4-hour period, that’s all the “rest” you would be entitled to. Think about that when you are working a long, difficult shift. Think about how that could impact the quality of care that you provide to your patients. Rather than addressing staffing so that nurses may take uninterrupted 15-minute breaks as required by the contract, Management wants to lower the bar and allow for “intermittent” rest breaks. WGH patients and nurses deserve better.
WSNA has proposed that WGH maintain staffing levels that ensure safety of nurses and patients alike and that ensure that nurses receive meal and rest breaks and can utilize available time off from work. Management’s response is simply: “No. Withdraw your proposal.”
Management simply has not lived up to its obligation regarding staffing. In fact, just a few months ago the Washington State Department of Health found that Whidbey General Hospital violated the state’s “Safe Nurse Staffing” law, created in 2008 to ensure that hospitals and nurses work together to develop nurse staffing plans adequate to keep patients safe. The Department of Health found that violation “may result in nurse staffing levels that do not support safe and effective patient care.” Given Management’s poor track record in this regard, we need stronger staffing language. Management simply says “No” and offers no solution.
During negotiations in 2012, WSNA proposed that WGH implement a much-needed preceptor program that is commonplace at other facilities. A functioning preceptor program ensures, among other things, that nurses receive proper training and orientation under the guidance of more experienced nurses. It just makes sense for patient care. Despite what we felt was a very real and immediate need for the program, Management insisted that it needed until 2014 to implement the program. When negotiations were concluded, Management had agreed in writing to implement a preceptor program by January 1, 2014. Quite simply, Management did not abide by that commitment and still does not have a properly functioning preceptor program after all these years. WSNA has had to file an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint to force Management to live up to its agreement.
Now, Management is insisting that we simply withdraw the ULP Compliant as part of negotiations without resolving the underlying preceptor issue. With apparent amnesia on the history of the preceptor issue and without a hint of irony, Management has also proposed that we can discuss the issue sometime in the future at Conference Committee. Remember the word of the day? Platitude. The time to resolve this issue is now. Given that Management broke the law regarding its staffing obligations and given that they failed to live up to their agreement during last negotiations to implement a preceptor program, we have little confidence that they will do anything meaningful to address the issue in a committee at some time in the future. So much for leadership and accountability. We are at a loss as to why Management is stumbling over this issue when it seems to work well at so many other facilities. We ask Management to offer a positive, meaningful solution this issue, rather than spending money to fight it.
Orientation, Safety and Health:
Your WSNA team came to the table with several common sense proposals of additional requirements to ensure proper orientation, training and equipment for nurses to do their jobs. Management says “No” to our proposals and insists that we discuss these issues at a later time in Conference Committee. What is the word of the day? Platitude. To Management, we say “we are sitting across the table from you now. This is the time to work on these issues.”
WSNA has proposed daily overtime for several units that currently are not on this pay system. Your peers in these departments are frequently held over beyond the end of their shifts. Unlike most of you, they do not receive overtime when Management keeps them working beyond the end of their scheduled shifts. This practice, we believe, leads to inappropriate or over scheduling of patients. Nurses deserve predictability and a reasonable expectation that their shifts will end on time so they can go home to their families and life outside of work. Patients deserve caregivers who have not worked long, unexpected hours. Management has said “No” to WSNA’s reasonable proposal that is afforded to most of the nurses at the hospital. Nor have they offered any solution to chronic overtime, which is not good for nurses or patients.
Retaining Nurses with Handcuffs:
Management continues to propose to handcuff newly hired nurses to their positions for six months during which they would be Prohibited from applying for any other position at WGH. WGH struggles to retain nurses. Why would we strip a nurse of finding a good fit at WGH? Suppose WGH hires an experienced ICU nurse into the medical surgical unit and five months later a position opens up in the ICU. The nurse would have preferred a position at WGH in ICU, but no such position was open when she applied. And suppose five months later a position opens up in the ICU. Under Management’s proposal, that nurse would be Prohibited from even applying for a job for which he or she would be very qualified. The nurse may decide to leave WGH to take an ICU position at another facility. Opportunity lost. Management should focus on improving things at WGH so that nurses want to stay, not because they have to stay.
Forcing Reserve Nurses to Work More:
Rather than focusing on improving core staffing so that reliance of per diems is lessened, Management continues to insist that reserve nurses be required to actually work more frequently, rather than just be available to work. However, reserve nurses already work a high number of hours, and Management’s proposal may well cause reserve nurses to leave WGH to look for work elsewhere where they would have greater flexibility that is a large part of the appeal of reserve positions.
The wages for nurses at WGH are far below those of WSNA nurses at nearby facilities. WSNA has proposed wage increases to make WGH more competitive in recruiting and retaining nurses and to make the wage increases retroactive to the expiration date of the contract (4/1/15). Under Management’s proposal, nurses would not receive any retroactive pay for the period since the current contract expired on March 31, 2015. When St. Joseph’s, United General and Island Hospital recently settled their contracts after their expiration dates, Hospital leadership did the right thing and agreed to retroactive compensation. WGH Management thinks differently and wants to take financial advantage of prolonged negotiations.
As you can see, Management is still proposing substandard wages and seeks to impose conditions designed to handcuff nurses to their jobs rather than focusing on finding ways to make nurses want to stay here. Meanwhile, they refuse to make commitments regarding training and staffing. If Management really wants to move forward and improve its relationship with its nurses and WSNA, it should demonstrate that by coming to the table with proposals designed to address and resolve serious issues, rather than with mere Platitudes.
Your Fellow Nurses on your WSNA Bargaining Team