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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Deal leaves three hospitals facing strike by nurses

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

A second Honolulu hospital has reached a tentative contract agreement with the nurses union, but three other hospitals were still without deals as strike deadlines approach this week.

Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women and Children and the Hawaii Nurses Association reached a tentative agreement yesterday morning, said Sue Scheider, executive director of the nurses union.

The Kapi'olani agreement came at 9 a.m. at the end of 24 consecutive hours of negotiations.

"We're recommending it to the membership, so that's a good ending," Scheider said. "It provides most of the things we were looking for."

Kapi'olani officials said the agreement was a good one.

"We feel our nurses will be pleased with the proposed contract, which addresses nurse recruitment and retention in Hawai'i," said Kapi'olani spokeswoman Pat Oda.

Kapi'olani's 480 registered nurses will vote around midweek on whether to accept the contract proposal, Scheider said. Nurses at Kaiser Medical Center also will vote midweek on a tentative agreement reached Thursday with that hospital.

The deadline set by the nurses to strike at St. Francis and Kuakini is 7 a.m. tomorrow. At Queen's, the deadline is 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Negotiations between the nurses and Queen's have broken down twice this weekend. The first stalemate came early yesterday morning, when Queen's gave the nurses its best and final offer.

"I am recommending we reject it," said Bill Richter, a member of the nurses' negotiating team and a registered nurse at Queen's, said after that 16-hour negotiation session.

Caroldean Kahue, HNA's chief negotiator in the talks with Queen's, said she knew the rank and file would reject the offer, so she requested negotiations resume, which they did at 3 p.m. yesterday.

Queen's wanted to reduce sick days taken by the nurses by offering paid time off to those nurses with good attendance, Kahue said. The nurses opposed that provision.

Instead, they wanted Queen's to increase its staffing, which would reduce the amount of overtime the nurses were required to work. Because the nurses would be less stressed and better able to fight off the illnesses to which their work exposes them, the number of sick days they took would be reduced, Kahue said.

After five hours of discussion, Queen's rejected the nurses' suggestion. There were no plans yesterday for another negotiation session with Queen's.

"We took a look at our overtime hours," Gail Tiwanak, Queen's vice president of marketing and communications, said last night.

"Our RNs work an average of 95 hours of overtime per year, per nurse. The national average is 338 hours," she said. "Our staffing is at or above the American Nurses Association mean, and our vacancy rate is relatively low right now."

"The paid time off program does not take away any sick days or other time off," she said. "It just allows the nurses more flexibility."

Queen's spokeswoman Lynn Kenton said the hospital's staffing is 1.85 registered nurses per bed, compared with a U.S. News and World Report annual survey showing the top five U.S. hospitals had 1.74 registered nurses per bed.

She said Queen's would bring in Mainland nurses in the event of a walkout.

At this point, she said, the hospital plans to continue providing all services, and patients should keep scheduled appointments but check with their doctors for the latest developments.

Negotiations with Kuakini are scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. today.

For St. Francis, Scheider said the federal mediator is trying to arrange another meeting before tomorrow, but hospital spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett said the chief negotiator had not been contacted by the mediator or the union.

"We haven't refused to return to the table," Jarrett said last night. "We haven't been approached."

St. Francis made its "best and final offer" early last week, Jarrett said Friday, which the nurses rejected. Jarrett said St. Francis Medical Center-West, which is under a separate contract, would continue to function as usual in the event of a strike. But St. Francis Medical Center at Liliha will severely curtail services beginning tomorrow if the nurses walk out, she said.