St. Francis nurses surviving week 5 on picket line

LIHU’E – When the nine registered nurses working at St. Francis Medical Center’s Kauai Dialysis Satellite Facility at Lihu’e and Waimea, and St. Francis Home Care Services Kauai in Lihu’e, began walking the picket line in early December, they hoped their strike would be a short one.

A week, maybe two, they figured.

Tomorrow ends week five on the line, “too long,” according to one of the nurses holding signs yesterday along Ahukini Road outside the Elua Street dialysis and home-care buildings.

The Waimea dialysis facility, closed since the nurses walked out over a contract dispute Dec. 1, remains closed, forcing the 23 Westside dialysis patients to come to Lihu’e for treatment. There is no date set yet to re-open the Waimea facility, said a St. Francis spokesperson.

The nurses, represented by the Hawaii Nurses Association, took to the streets on Dec. 1, with no talks since then before plans to return to the bargaining table today. According to the nurses, the issues include patient care and safety, mandatory overtime, and paid time off (PTO).

“It’s not about the money,” said one of a group of six St. Francis Kaua’i nurses out on the line yesterday, including Maria LaMadrid, Kathleen Miller, Elizabeth Villasista, Maile Ballesteros, Rebecca Mumley and Bob Ishiguro.

The lack of money flowing, though, when enduring five weeks of unpaid picketing time, has meant some nurses have had to dip into savings, mutual funds, and take advantage of loans offered through the HNA, to make ends meet and survive the holidays, they said.

The bad news of over a month without a paycheck got worse when they were informed that their medical and dental benefits were retroactively taken away last month, after they said they were told by their employer they would be covered in December.

They have been encouraged, though, by Wilcox Memorial Hospital nurses in the HNA joining them on the picket line, along with leaders and members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Dialysis and home-care patients have brought the striking nurses doughnuts and pizza, and one even came out with his ‘ukulele and sang Christmas carols with them over the holidays. Support from passing motorists has been almost all favorable, too, they said.

The nurses were unanimous in affirmative responses when asked yesterday if they miss their patients.

Both the striking nurses and St. Francis spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett confirmed that nursing supervisors, some non-union nurses in the home-care side, and technicians have kept the Lihu’e facilities working.

There are 83 Kauaians who go to St. Francis centers on Kaua’i for dialysis, at Lihu’e (60) and Waimea (23), and another 50 in the hospital’s home-health program, Jarrett said.

The Kaua’i nurses want to do away all together with mandatory overtime, saying voluntary overtime is all right, but mandatory overtime in the high-stress, short-staffed nursing profession leads to earlier burnout than necessary.

Paid time off is another sticking point, with the benefit given to be used like vacation time, but eaten up first, for four days, before sick time kicks in, when a nurse calls in sick. The Kaua’i nurses say the PTO situation makes them report to work when they’re sick, so they won’t use the valuable PTO time.

Both union and management say the success of their talks could hinge on what happens during the renewed negotiations between HNA and management at The Queen’s Medical Center, which resumed yesterday.

Kuakini Medical Center nurses are also on strike, while other hospitals on O’ahu recently settled with HNA members on new contracts.

St. Francis negotiators are interested in offering only a one-year contract, which would mean negotiations on a new contract would have to occur within a year, say the nurses, who prefer a three-year package.

The Wilcox Hospital and Kauai Medical Clinic nurses belonging to HNA already have a contract in place, a Wilcox spokesperson said.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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