NHCH nurses, Queen’s reach tentative agreement

  • North Hawaii Community Hospital nurses wave signs on May 4. (Courtesy photo)

KAILUA-KONA — A tentative agreement has been reached between the union representing dozens of nurses at North Hawaii Community Hospital and The Queen’s Health Systems, averting a possible strike at the Waimea facility.

The not-yet-ratified agreement was reached at 5 p.m. Monday 1 between the Hawaii Nurses’ Association, OPEIU Local 50, which represents the North Hawaii nurses, and executives of The Queen’s Health Systems, parent company of North Hawaii Community Hospital, union president Daniel Ross, RN, said in a Thursday media release.

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“The nurses unified with the Big Island Community to fight for patient safety through adequate staffing levels and wage adjustments to aid in the recruitment and retention of experienced nurses,” he said. “NHCH nurses are committed to the care of their community and are humbled with the gratitude and the overwhelming community support for their efforts. They look forward to continuing to provide the quality care the Waimea community deserves.”

Queen’s Health Systems confirmed the tentative agreement Friday, adding the new contract will last for three years.

“The new contract covers 71 registered nurses at North Hawaii. Our nurses are valuable members of the Queen’s ohana, and the numerous contributions they make every day help North Hawaii Community Hospital put our Patients First as we continue to provide the best health care to the people of Hawaii for many years to come,” North Hawaii Community Hospital President Cindy Kamikawa, RN, said in a prepared statement.

Highlights of the tentative agreement were outlined in a communication from the union to its members at North Hawaii Community Hospital, Ross said.

Among them were across-the-board pay raises equivalent to 11% by the end of the three-year period; shorter period between job rate increases; the provision that the hospital cannot cancel regularly scheduled shifts or on-call status immediately prior to regular start time to avoid paying overtime or premium pay; and no reduction or elimination of benefits.

It also includes nurse staffing criteria based on The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu’s language and a commitment to adhere to guidelines from national organizations such as the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, and American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses.

The agreement will take effect upon ratification by the nurses. A general membership vote is expected to take place by the end of next week, Ross said.

The tentative agreement follows more than three months of negotiations between the Hawaii Nurses’ Association and The Queen’s Health Systems that kicked off after the nurses’ prior contract, ratified in 2015, expired March 31.

The Waimea hospital’s six dozen nurses represented by the union have been working without a contract since then. Nurses staged on May 4 an informal picket outside the 35-bed hospital, which became part of The Queen’s Health Systems in 2014.

Across the state, the Hawaii Nurses’ Association represents the majority of Hawaii’s private-sector nurses with approximately 5,000 members.

That includes nurses at Big Island Kaiser Permanente clinics, Ross said. The union is currently in national negotiation with Kaiser as part of the 85,000-member Coalition of Kaiser Permanent Unions. The coalition’s national agreement with the health system ended Sept. 30.

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Nurses at state hospitals — including Hawaii Health Systems Corp.-administered Kona Community Hospital, Hilo Medical Center, Hale Hoola Hamakua, Ka’u Hospital and Kohala Hospital on the Big Island — are represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association. HGEA Unit 9, which represents nurses, appeared for an arbitration hearing to settle disputes in May and a decision is likely to rendered this summer.

“HGEA is advocating for fair and equitable pay increases to help bring Unit 9 nurses’ compensation package in line with Hawaii private sector nurses and those on the west coast of the U.S. mainland and also for safe working conditions. Mandatory overtime is a problem that the Union is trying to address in this contract arbitration hearing,” an update posted on the HGEA website reads.

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