Press release

Tacoma General nurses say “NO” to voluntary overtime, extra shifts Nov. 10-17

Union job action comes after 11 months of bargaining, multiple unfair labor practices

TACOMA – (Nov. 7, 2016) After 11 months at the bargaining table, the registered nurses at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital will not take voluntary overtime or extra shifts Nov. 10-17. This concerted union action is in response to MultiCare’s ongoing illegal actions against the nurses, as well as its refusal to address staffing issues and break coverage in a way that supports the safe care of patients at the hospital.

Nurses are sick and tired of MultiCare’s behavior at the bargaining table and numerous unfair labor practices, including unlawful surveillance, intimidation and unilateral changes to nurses’ working conditions. The Director for Region 19 of the National Labor Relations Board recently found merit in several of the charges and will be issuing formal complaints.

The job action was agreed upon at a meeting of Tacoma General nurses Oct. 19. Notice was given to Tacoma General Oct. 30 so that hospital managers can make alternative arrangements for patient care.

“The nurses at Tacoma General feel like we have to stand up for our patients and for safe patient care,” said Renata Bowlden, RN, a Washington State Nurses Association bargaining team member. “For nearly a year the nurses at Tacoma General have been trying to address our concerns at the bargaining table, and we feel like we’re not being listened to. Instead, the hospital has repeatedly disrespected us and violated our rights. We hope turning down voluntary overtime and extra shifts will demonstrate to management in a very concrete way that the nurses are being stretched too thin.”

Nurses at Tacoma General are being stretched to the limit, covering more than the nationally recommended number of patients far too often and being called almost daily to pick up extra hours and extra shifts. RNs are running from high acuity patient to high acuity patient, distressed that they may not be able to give them the care they need as quickly as they need it. Oftentimes, nurses work entire shifts without even going to the bathroom.

The Washington State Nurses Association has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against MultiCare during the course of these negotiations. Charges the Director for Region 19 of the National Labor Relations Board will be issuing formal complaints on include unlawful photographing and videotaping by MultiCare and Tacoma General CEO Bill Robertson of nurses participating in the June 27 Informational Picket outside Tacoma General and Tacoma General’s abrupt decision to withhold annual payments from the nurses under a decades-old annual gainsharing bonus.

“MultiCare Tacoma General’s ongoing, flagrant violations of labor law are making it very hard to move contract negotiations forward,” said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, Assistant Executive Director for Labor Relations at WSNA. “We want Tacoma General management to stop engaging in unlawful, anti-union behavior and come back to the bargaining table ready to engage in some serious negotiations.”

The Tacoma General nurses have gone to the bargaining table 14 times – twice with a federal mediator. Rather than engage in fruitful negotiations, Tacoma General management has repeatedly made unilateral changes to working conditions, including restructuring units and making nurses “rebid” for their jobs. Tacoma General management continues to defy an arbitrator’s “final and binding” order that they discontinue the use of “Break Buddies,” which doubles a nurse’s patient load so that his or her “buddy” can take a break. In reality, too many nurses aren’t getting their breaks. In one quarter alone this year, nurses reported missing 18,000 rest breaks. Nurses shouldn’t have to fear for their colleagues and their patients every time they take a break.

The Tacoma General nurses will continue to fight for national staffing standards to ensure they don’t have too many patients to care for safely. They will continue to fight for enough rest between shifts to get the sleep and food they need to come back to the hospital and provide the highest-quality care for their patients. And, they will continue to demand that MultiCare put Patients before Profits!

The next contract bargaining sessions, which will be conducted with the help of a federal mediator, are scheduled for Nov. 8 and 15.

Key issues at the negotiating table remain:

  • Safe Staffing: Without adequate staffing, nurses can’t give their patients the attention they require.
  • Real rest breaks: Tacoma General is defying an arbitrators order by insisting on continuing to use “break buddies” to cover rest breaks. The truth is, expecting a nurse to take a double patient load – even for only 15 minutes – is not safe. Even with the break buddy system in place, nurses are missing thousands of breaks per month.
  • Wages and benefits that recruit and retain good nurses: Tacoma General will not be able to meet their staffing needs without recruiting and retaining good nurses. That takes competitive wages and benefits.

About WSNA WSNA is the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing union representation and trainings that allow nurses to reach their full professional potential and focus on caring for patients. WSNA represents more than 17,000 registered nurses who provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools and community and public health settings across the state. For more than 100 years, WSNA has championed issues that support nurses, advance professional standards and improve the health of individuals and families in Washington.

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