Wilcox seeking long-term replacements

Wilcox Memorial Hospital and its nurses reported no progress in contract negotiations as the standoff enters its 112th day.

“We still want the nurses to consider the last proposal,” Lani Yukimura, Wilcox spokeswoman, said. The two sides will meet with a federal negotiator again next week, she said.

The union will meet today to generate a new proposal to share in that meeting, D.Q. Jackson, spokesman for the Hawai‘i Nurses Association said.

Union representatives traveled to O‘ahu yesterday in a bid to garner state-wide support, picketing first at the hospital’s Hawaii Pacific Health affiliates and then at the State Capitol.

The hospital, which has remained open, continued to recruit replacement nurses — with one change.

“We are transitioning from short-term nursing assignments to some longer term nurses,” Yukimura said.

The minimum timeframe for temporary contracts had been two weeks, Yukimura said.

New job ads posted on recruiting sites called for 13- to 24-week contracts. Posters could not be reached for comment.

Yukimura said the extended contract did not imply that the hospital expected the strike to last the length of the contract period — or that nurses would be replaced.

“They have flexibility in the contracts,” she said. “No positions are being filled with permanent employees. We have not fired any nurses.”

The change will help the hospital maintain service, Yukimura said.

“We’re not sure when the strike will end,” she said. “We want to be prepared to make sure we have adequate staffing to stay open.”

But some nurses on strike said the longer contracts could carry another meaning.

“I don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re testing the waters to see if they can replace us,” said Joan Kutzer, a nurse with 20 years of experience who is on strike from Wilcox’s operating room. “We do know they’ll need nurses, because so many have resigned.”

However, replacement is unlikely, she said, given the current nursing shortage that exists throughout the nation.

Yukimura said the hospital would not hire replacements for resigned or retired nurses until after the strike ended.

Rumors that the nurses would be replaced has been floated on the Web site scab.org and also by at least one recruiter, but Yukimura said the news has no merit.

However the hospital has warned that it could call for an impasse after the union rejected its most recent offer.

The labor action has been classified as an economic strike, a label that means — at least in theory — the hospital could replace nurses, said Meredith Burns, acting officer in charge at the National Labor Relations Board.

For the jobs to be secured, the union would need the NLRB to find that the hospital had violated labor rules.

The union currently has charged the hospital with six unfair labor practices, Burns said, with the most recent charge filed on Sept. 21.

It typically takes about 60 days for the NLRB to reach a decision, she said, and each new charge extends the process.

Nurses walked out in June over contract disputes that included staffing levels and overtime pay. The union has said a successful contract hinges on the development of a staffing system that includes nurse input.

The hospital has offered to create a development team that includes nurses, with final decisions resting in the hands of nurse executives from Honolulu-based Hawaii Pacific Health, of which Wilcox is part.

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