Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses gathered Monday night to hear an update on contract talks and discuss options after months of negotiation without a new pact.
The gathering — which included 5 and 8 p.m. sessions to accommodate day and night shift schedules — included an advisory vote on a possible future strike. It won 90 percent approval. Hundreds of nurses took part in the vote, although an exact count wasn’t provided.
The outcome of the vote doesn’t mean nurses plan to go on strike at this time. Officials described the vote as a way to gauge how the nurses are feeling at this point.
“We are not calling a strike based on this vote; however, we learned tonight that the Kadlec nurses are resolved to stand behind their bargaining team,” the Washington State Nurses Association said in a statement.
The association is representing about 800 registered nurses at the Richland hospital in the contract talks. The nurses’ three-year contract expired on Nov. 30.
Negotiations for a new pact have been going on since May. Staffing levels, paid time off and sick leave are the main sticking points.
“The safe staffing issue has been something that we’ve been dealing with for quite some time,” said Raquel Johnson, a Kadlec nurse and member of the negotiating team. “Safe staffing ensures meal breaks and rest breaks are taken. When the nurses are short-changed for rest breaks, it’s indicative that we do not have sufficient staffing.”
Hospital management also is tying lower health insurance costs to a significant reduction in paid time off and the eventual elimination of the extended illness bank, officials said.
“The proposal is a bad deal for the nurses at Kadlec. Given an infusion of millions of dollars from Providence to Kadlec, increases in patient census, high patient acuity and increased demands on nurses every day, Kadlec’s desire to take away time for vacation, sick leave and long-term sick leave is difficult to understand,” the nurses association said in a statement last week.
Kadlec affiliated with the larger Providence Health & Services last year.
Johnson said she and her nurse colleagues are dedicated to their patients, and having a fair contract that ensures they get rest and some balance is critical to good patient care.
Also, “healthy nurses, healthy work-life balance — I think it fosters even more loyalty to the hospital. When you treat your employees well, they’re going to give you everything,” Johnson said.
Johnson and nurses association officials said they’re hopeful a resolution can be reached at the bargaining table.
A date for the next session hasn’t been finalized. The nurses association proposed Jan. 13 and is waiting for Kadlec to respond, the group said.
Kadlec leaders have said they won’t discuss details of the negotiations to “respect the process and keep the talks at the table.”
They’ve also said they are committed to negotiating in good faith and are hopeful a resolution can be reached.