Providence nurses overwhelmingly approve contract

EVERETT — Registered nurses at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett have overwhelmingly approved a new contract, bringing an end to a months-long labor dispute that saw nurses handing out leaflets and organizing a rally to try to win public support for their cause.

The votes were tallied Wednesday evening with 97 percent of nurses who voted indicating their approval of the contract. The nurses contract expired in October and there were several temporary extensions. A federal mediator joined the discussions in January.

The three-year contract for the hospital’s 1,400 registered nurses calls for a new way to resolve staffing disputes.

The nurses, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union local 21, had maintained that more nurses were needed to adequately care for patients.

“We talked for six months and 19 sessions with management to try to come up with a way to fix our staffing,” said Jane Teske, a member of the union’s bargaining team who works in the hospital’s newborn intensive care unit. The staffing issue was the last thing to be resolved in the talks, she said. “It’s not an easy fix.”

The issue not only involved the number of registered nurses employed by the hospital but also ways to deploy them rapidly to specific units that need extra help, she said.

The contract calls for several steps to help resolve staffing issues. They include a process for nurses to document staffing concerns, and if agreement cannot be reached between the two sides, meeting with a federal mediator to help resolve problems.

“I believe our new contract will have the best staffing language in the state of Washington,” Teske said.

Barbara Hyland-Hill, chief nursing officer, speaking on behalf of Providence, said the hospital didn’t agree to any staffing ratios, “but we’ll evaluate every department’s staffing as part of this plan.”

Asked if the staffing agreement would likely be considered a win for the union in negotiations, she said, “I would suspect that’s what they might say.” The hospital is committed to working with the nurses on their concerns, she said. “It’s about assuring that the nurses have a voice.”

Danielle Percival is a union member who works as a head nurse on the night shift. She said she supported the new agreement because “we have more of a voice now to make sure we have safe staffing.”

The contract also calls for wage increases of 3.3 percent in the first year retroactive to Feb. 8, 3 percent in the second year and 3.25 percent in the third year.

In addition, nurses with up to 20 years experience get an annual longevity increase averaging 2.5 percent. Similar increases will be given on a more staggered annual basis for those with more experience.

“It certainly helps with the retention of our current nurses and helps in recruiting new nurses,” Hyland-Hill said of the wage increases. The hospital currently has about 100 openings for registered nurses, she said.

“We’re very happy to reach an agreement that the union felt they could recommend highly to the membership,” Hyland-Hill said. “We’re delighted that the nurses ratified the contract in such an overwhelming way.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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