Wilcox to bring in replacements if nurses strike

Wilcox Memorial Hospital leaders are preparing to provide full nursing services at the hospital even as 140 nurses plan to go on strike on June 24 following a breakdown in contract talks.

“We have plans to bring in nurses from the Mainland and Hawai‘i,” said Ken Pierce, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

Dee Knudsen, vice president of operations and human resources, said the hospital has contracted 50 to 60 nurses to take the place of any nurses on strike, if one occurs.

Jon Carroll is an attorney with the Hawaii Nurses Association, the union representing the 140 nurses. He said he doesn’t think the replacement nurses will be able to carry out the duties of the 140 nurses if a strike occurs.

“I understand they (Wilcox officials) have a hospital to run,” he said. “But I hope the community understands that 60 nurses can’t possibly replace the 140 skilled, local nurses.”

Wilcox officials say the incoming nurses should be able to take on the work load of the 140 nurses and will do whatever is necessary to provide full services to patients.

“Whatever the community needs,” said Linda Rozelle, a nurse manager at the hospital.

The nurses who work at the Kauai Medical Clinic outlets in Lihu‘e, Koloa, ‘Ele‘ele, Kapa‘a and Kilauea are not affected by the strike because they are covered under a different contract.

The talks between the union and Wilcox Hospital management broke down over acuity nursing and patient staff issues.

Some 89 percent of the 140 nurses voted on Tuesday not to ratify a final contract settlement, and the union issued a 10-day strike notice.

Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are prepared to hit the picket lines, if necessary, at 7 a.m. on June 24, if the differences are not resolved.

Teri Gomez, a supervisor with the human resources department at Wilcox Hospital, said both sides are not that far from working out their contract differences.

“We are very close,” she said. “We absolutely felt the strike was unnecessary.”

Rozelle said, “We are really disappointed that after the negotiators first met on April 28, that it has come to this point (a pending strike).”

D.Q. Jackson, a spokesman for the HNA bargaining team, has said he to hopes a settlement can be reached.

Hospital officials anticipate picket lines will be set up on Kuhio Highway in front of the hospital and by the hospital’s emergency room.

Pierce said he hopes no disturbances occur, but if they occur hopes the “unpleasantness will be minimized.”

“We have anticipated pitfalls and will respond accordingly,” Pierce said.

Carroll said he doesn’t anticipate rowdy nurses on the picket line.

“I expect my nurses to act with proper decorum. They are professionals,” he said.

Knudsen said the 11 percent of the 140 nurses who voted to ratify the final settlement and not go on strike probably have been asked by their union to support a strike, if it occurs.

Knudsen said the hospital will be sending questionnaires to those nurses “to see if they will cross the picket line.”

A major sticking point in the contract negotiations has been the type of acuity nursing system to be employed at the hospital.

Carol Catanzariti, an O‘ahu-based federal mediator, asked both sides to meet yesterday, “and we didn’t come to a resolution,” Rozelle said.

Carroll said the union hoped to resolve the contract differences, but “they (Wilcox officials) made zero movement.”

“It seems they are willing to go back to the table as long as we give up our position, all the outstanding issues,” Carroll said. “They just aren’t interested in making any concessions.”

Catanzariti has stipulated both sides won’t meet until after the start of the strike, although she could call both sides back to the bargaining table before then, Wilcox officials said.

“That’s not true, sessions can be called at any time between now and the strike,” Carroll said. “The employer has decided not to meet unless the union budges from its position.”

An eight-member hospital negotiation team, which included Rozelle and Linda Leavitt, a hospital nursing manager, proposed a committee to look at developing a “better acuity system,” Rozelle said.

The committee would consist of members from the Hawaii Nurses Association and Wilcox Hospital, she said.

“We put aside a lot of time on the discussion about forming the committee,” Rozelle said.

Carroll said, “HNA is fully backing the committee idea. The problem is that we have not gotten assurances that measure will get full faith.”

Claudine Tomasa, a registered nurse and a labor specialist with HNA, has said the union nurses are going on strike because Wilcox Hospital doesn’t have in place an “acuity system to safely staff the hospital (according to the needs of patients).”

Rozelle said the acuity system works well. “Our staffing is beyond the staff of most hospitals on O‘ahu and the Mainland,” she said.

Tomasa said both sides are also at odds over a contract proposal that would affect 30 nurses who work in “special units such as surgical services.”

The nurses have worked at the hospital between 5 and 15 years.

Salaries and benefits were not an issue in the negotiations.

“The salary proposal was extremely generous,” Rozelle said. “I suspect the nurses are happy with 21 percent (salary) increases over three years.”

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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