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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Both sides stand firm in nurses' strike

By Mike Leidemann and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

A strike by 1,400 nurses at three O'ahu hospitals moved into its second week yesterday with no new negotiations scheduled.

With both sides still far apart on issues — including wages, paid time off, staffing levels and retirement benefits — nurses and management at the St. Francis, Queen's, and Kuakini medical centers said yesterday they each remained confident in their positions.

"Everybody is still motivated. Everybody is still positive and focused. We are keeping each other going," said Kerry Lineham, one of the 200 striking nurses at Kuakini.

Meanwhile, working staff members and some replacement nurses have banded together to keep patient services at Kuakini at a high level, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"We're maintaining a can-do attitude," said spokeswoman Donda Spiker. "Our remaining staff is taking a team approach that has allowed us to maintain the strengths of our entire center."

No negotiations are scheduled between nurses and management at any of the hospitals, said Sue Scheider, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association.

Nurses have made it clear that they will return to negotiations "any day or any night," she said. "The nurses will last as long as they have to."

Hospital officials have said they put their "best and final" offers on the bargaining table before the strike began.

St. Francis moved yesterday to head off a building crisis in patient care by finalizing arrangements to bring in 12 replacements to spell exhausted staffers.

The hospital, where 340 nurses walked off the job on Monday of last week, has sought unsuccessfully in the courts and in talks with the nurses' association to have some strikers return to help with patient care in units that include critical care, transplants and out-patient dialysis.

One replacement nurse is already working with patients needing kidney dialysis treatment and the rest are expected by the end of the week, said hospital spokeswoman Maggie Jarrett.

Over the weekend, St. Francis transferred one of its critically ill patients to The Queen's Medical Center, where about 800 nurses have been on strike since last Tuesday, Jarrett said.

At St. Francis, nurse managers have been pressed into service, but Jarrett said the hospital is concerned about fatigue. "Our staff is really getting stretched," Jarrett said. "The 16-hour shifts are twice the normal shift."

St. Francis nurse Blaine Southward said the strikers gained new strength over the weekend after feeling "powerless" on Thursday and Friday. Now they have found inspiration in each other, he said.

"I think we are dug in," he said.

The nurses had been walking the line for entire eight-hour shifts but that was cut in half yesterday, Southward said.

"People are still committed to the strike but the reality is they have to put food on the table, so they are looking for part-time work," he said.

The nurses are negotiating separately with each hospital and the issues vary at each one, Scheider said.

Late Saturday night, 640 nurses at Kaiser voted to accept a contract that includes a pay increase of 21 percent over three years. Pay for a nurse with two years of experience at the hospital rises immediately to $30.89 an hour, or $64,247 per year. By the end of the contract, the same pay rate rises to $35.03 per hour, or $72,869 per year, Scheider said. There are additional increases for nurses with seven years and 15 years experience at the hospital.

Last week, 480 nurses at Kapi'olani Medical Center approved a similar three-year contract, with a 22 percent pay increase. The new hourly pay rate for a Kapi'olani nurse with two years of experience will be just over $30 per hour. Additional 7 percent pay increases are included in the second and third years of the contract.

Nurses at both hospitals, however, said the contracts do not fully satisfy all their concerns about safe staffing levels and better retirement medical benefits.