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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 28, 2002

Paid time off blocks negotiations at Queen's

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Negotiators for striking nurses and The Queen's Medical Center are accusing each side of not negotiating in good faith, and the only thing they can agree on is that there's no end is in sight for the nearly four-week-old walkout.

The two sides met for about nine hours Thursday. But talks stopped abruptly when negotiators reached a stalemate on the sticky issue of paid time off (PTO), according to both sides. No new negotiations have been scheduled.

Bill Richter, a Queen's nurse and member of the negotiating team, said the nurses had agreed on many of the major issues, including wages, patient safety and staffing, but management would not negotiate separately on the PTO matter.

"We basically said, 'Wages, fine, the majority of the compensation issues, fine,' we just went down the list and said, 'Fine, and let's get them off the table so we can talk about other things,' " Richter said. "They refused to consider that again based solely on the fact that we didn't agree to PTO."

Dan Jessop, Queen's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said yesterday that the nurses did not bring anything new to the bargaining table. Jessop said that PTO is an integral part of the benefits package being offered and the hospital would not consider it separately.

"The (nurses') last proposal came back as a proposal that we had disagreed with 10 days ago," Jessop said. "So that's when we left. We didn't feel that there was any room for further talks at that stage."

Jessop said management had expected to reach an agreement Thursday and was "quite surprised" when the talks did not focus on the critical issues of mandatory overtime, wages and patient safety.

Queen's has proposed that the PTO program go into effect in 2004, but the nurses want the hospital to pay for an independent study to determine whether PTO is warranted.

The Queen's paid time off proposal combines sick, holiday and vacation programs. Nurses would accrue up to five extra vacation days for not using sick days and could "sell back" up to 80 hours of unused paid time off each year and donate hours to fellow employees. Nurses would not lose any sick leave they currently have.

Queen's spokeswoman Gail Tiwanak said the hospital's absenteeism rate is twice the national average and PTO is a way of managing costs. This would enable the hospital to increase wages for its 800 registered nurses and manage the mandatory overtime issue, she said.

Richter said the nurses would have no problem with PTO if it can be justified. He said nurses aren't willing to give up vacation days and holidays to cover sick days, especially since they work in an environment that's conducive to illnesses and injuries.

"If (Queen's officials) are so adamant that this is such a prevalent problem, then why are they unwilling to submit to some independent verification of these numbers?" he said.

The hospital's proposed salary increases were detailed in a full-page ad yesterday in both Honolulu daily newspapers.

Salary increases for nurses would bring wages to from $52,107 per year to $80,662 a year, depending on experience. The ad said the hospital had proposed increases ranging from 21 percent to 30 percent over the next three years.

While talks have broken off at Queen's, no new negotiations are scheduled between striking nurses and Kuakini and St. Francis-Liliha medical centers.