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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

Moloka'i nurses set strike for tomorrow

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

With negotiations on a new contract apparently stalled, the six registered nurses at tiny Moloka'i General Hospital are planning to go on strike tomorrow morning.

"The nurses have made every effort to reach agreement with Moloka'i General Hospital and are left with no recourse,'' said Caroldean Kahue, chief negotiator for the Hawai'i Nurses' Association.

Negotiators for the nurses union and the hospital, owned by the Queen's Health System, have met with a federal mediator twice, but no additional negotiating sessions are scheduled before tomorrow's 7 a.m. strike deadline.

The 30-bed facility is the only hospital on Moloka'i and the only clinic to offer emergency care.

Kahue said the nurses are asking for a "modest'' package that includes a one-time bonus and a 1 percent wage increase that would total less than $5,000 a year for all six nurses. She said that while the nurses have gone without a pay raise for more than three years, the hospital has reduced the staff and created greater workloads.

Even though no new negotiating sessions are scheduled at this time, Dr. Emmett Aluli, Moloka'i General's co-medical executive director, said he remains hopeful a strike can be averted. While Aluli declined to say what the administration is offering, he said negotiators had been waiting for a response on the hospital's latest offer.

Aluli said that if the nurses strike, the hospital will remain open, using two nursing administrators who are also practicing nurses. Additional help may be sought from other nurses on the island and from traveling nurses who have committed to working at Moloka'i General this summer, he said.

Operations would be unaffected for the most part, according to Aluli. The emergency room would stay open, but severe cases likely would not be admitted and instead transferred to bigger hospitals on Maui or O'ahu.

Nancy McGuckin, acting director of the nursing association's collective bargaining organization, said it's disappointing that while Moloka'i General's administrators have received pay increases, the nurses have not.

"The nurses at Moloka'i General care deeply for their community and want to provide the very best patient care possible. They continue to do more with less under difficult circumstances and deserve, at the very least, the small increase being asked,'' McGuckin said.

McGuckin said the labor troubles on Moloka'i are a reflection of the problems with the nursing profession nationwide. Industry cost-cutting and staff reductions have led to deteriorating work conditions and a nationwide shortage of trained nurses.