No deal: Waimea nurses reject Queen’s proposed contract
Nurses at Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital this week rejected a proposed contract package pointing to unresolved “patient and staff safety concerns.”
“While the nurses appreciate Queen’s attempt to offer some concessions in their proposed contract, they felt there were major unresolved issues,” said Daniel Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association, which represents about 80 nurses at the Waimea hospital who are seeking equal pay to their counterparts on Oahu. “The nurses believe the staff shortages at Waimea must be addressed because the Waimea community deserves a fully-staffed hospital.
“The inability of Queen’s to hire or retain enough nurses at its Waimea facility is causing serious safety concerns. The people of Waimea deserve better,” he continued.
The union said Thursday approximately 90% of its members in Waimea voted between Sunday and Wednesday, with a majority of them tendering votes against ratifying the contract offered by The Queen’s Health Systems. Negotiations began March 4, weeks before the April 1 expiration of a contract ratified in 2019.
The Queen’s Health Systems, which operates the Waimea-based facility, offered a wage increase of 16% over the next three years, according to the union. Queen’s also offered to increase 401K match from 3% to 4.5%, as well as to increase the charge nurse differential from $3 a night to $5.50, and for on call nurses to $7. Health care benefits were unchanged, however.
“The issue is short staffing. The employer offered a large raise, but even so the base pay remains approximately 7% lower, provides no pension and a lower 401(k) match than what is offered to the Queen’s Oahu nurses. In addition, Waimea nurses pay more for health insurance than the employer’s Oahu nurses. So, it seems rather obvious why they cannot recruit and retain nurses,” said Ross.
He said the staffing situation is “getting desperate.”
“Equal compensation with Oahu could help in the long run, but there is an immediate need that is not being addressed. Even if the employer offered more than Oahu it would not address the immediate concerns,” Ross said Thursday afternoon noting that the hospital’s leadership has yet to meet on addressing what he called “horribly unsafe staffing conditions in the ER.”
The Queen’s Health Systems said Thursday it was “disappointed” with the vote against ratification of the contract proposal.
“The Queen’s Health Systems is disappointed that our generous offer to our valued QNHCH nurses was not ratified. We remain steadfast in our commitment to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that focuses on patient safety and provides wage increases and other improvements that support our nurses, their profession, and our community,” a prepared statement provided Thursday to West Hawaii Today read.
Currently, the base wage for nurses at The Queen’s Medical Center (QMC) in Honolulu is $62.64. which will increase to $63.89 in July, according to the union. Base pay for the nurses at Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital (QNHCH) is $52.70. More, the charge nurse at QMC receives an additional $3 per hour where as at QNHCH, it’s $1 per hour. The night differential pay at QMC is $5.50 per hour and at NHCH, it is $3 per hour.
Libby Joyce, a nurse at North Hawaii Community Hospital, said the contract presented did not meet nurses’ needs.
“Our staffing needs are immediate and everyday, in every department, nurses find themselves dangerously shorthanded and unable to provide the care we know our community needs and deserves. We are here because we have made the choice to serve this community that we are a part of and love,” she said. “This contract will not promote increased staffing and does not solve patient and staff safety concerns.”
Another nurse, Jennifer, who asked that her last name be withheld, said better wages are needed to assist the hospital in attracting and retaining nurses in the currently very competitive job market.
“It’s been a challenge,” she said. “In the department I work in, we’ve lost about five nurses total. So it’s been an issue to staff our unit and the rest of the hospital itself. They can’t seem to hire nurses because our wage isn’t competitive enough.”
The nurse also had a message for the hospital’s administration: “We understand where you are coming from, but we need you to be there for the community members and the hospital.”
Last month, nurses, friends and family and others gathered for two days of informational picketing along Mamalahoa Highway in Waimea to raise awareness to staffing issues at the hospital.
The nurses’ union has requested that Queen’s returns to the bargaining table to “negotiate in good faith.”
“We asked the employer (Queen’s) to return to the bargaining table, but they did not respond,” Ross said Thursday afternoon. “However, we heard from the federal mediator today that he has heard from both parties and both are willing to return to the table.”
A mediation has been scheduled for May 15, Ross said.