Kadlec hospital nurses to vote on strike

Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses plan to vote on Oct. 29-30 on whether to strike, the Washington State Nurses Association announced Wednesday.

The Richland hospital and Kadlec registered nurses have been negotiating for a year, with another mediation session scheduled Oct. 25 before the strike vote.

It’s the second round of contentious contract negotiation for the 915 nurses employed at Kadlec since the Richland hospital was affiliated with Providence Health & Services in 2014.

“Providence is engaged in unfair and illegal tactics to strip our nurses of basic earned benefits at Kadlec and hospitals across Washington and the West Coast,” said Martha Galvez, a nurse in the Birth Center at Kadlec.

Nurses at Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical center have scheduled similar strike votes this month.

About 200 Kadlec hospital nurses and supporters rallied at John Dam Plaza in Richland in March as contract negotiations with Providence continue on issues involving safety, staffing levels and paid time off. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The nurses union argues that Providence corporate is trying to cut benefits for nurses as the nonprofit collects record profits and gives what it calls “extravagant” raises to top executives.

The union says that Providence Chief Executive Rod Hochman received a 157 percent pay increase between 2015 and 2017, collecting $10 million in 2017.

Kadlec says nurses valuable

Kadlec officials said in a statement Wednesday that they continue to bargain in good faith.

It is focused on “reaching an agreement that both demonstrates how valuable our employees are to us and also allows us to deliver on our mission of providing save, compassionate care,” the statement said.

The union says that the nurses are opposing cuts to paid time off for nurses, after their extended illness benefits were eliminated during previous negotiations.

“We are not asking for anything more than we already have,” just a preservation of wages and benefits, Galvez said.

Nurses also are calling for more input into nursing staffing levels that ensure safety for patients and hospital staff.

“The sentiment, as nurses, is we don’t want to go on strike, but we will if we have to,” she said. “Providence is not listening.”

Kadlec said in a statement posted Sept. 27 on its website that it is proposing a competitive package of wages and benefits.

The new benefits proposed offer greater financial security and more flexibility when unexpected needs arise, and are competitive with benefits offered elsewhere, Kadlec said.

Experienced nurses hardest hit

“From our long-tenured employees to those who recently joined our team, all employees would receive the time off and income replacement they need and deserve,” it said.

Benefit cuts would hit the hospital’s most experienced nurses the hardest, said Meri Bukovinsky, a Kadlec nurse on the negotiating team.

Nurses accrual of paid time off would be capped at 200 to 280 hours for all vacation, holidays, personal days, sick leave and to make their paychecks whole for the times when they voluntarily leave work when they are not needed.

That is down from a maximum of 312 hours for nurses who have worked at least 15 years at the hospital.

Kadlec’s chief operating and nursing officer, Kirk Harper, said in a post on the hospital’s website that the hospital recognizes that long-time nurses have benefits they want to maintain.

Kadlec is proposing a transition period to phase in the new benefit accrual system and has proposed lump sum bonuses of $1,500 to $3,000 for nurses at the top of the wage scale, he said.

Galvez said those bonuses do not make up for what nurses would lose in the long term.

Kadlec fact sheets also show there are some options for pay for short-term disability, parental leave and family leave, some of it partial pay.

It replaces extended illness benefits that previously covered nurses for their own illnesses and caring for family members.

Kadlec nurses last went on strike in 1993, picketing for more than seven weeks on what they would be paid for working extra hours.

Then the hospital hired replacement nurses, paying premium wages and for their housing, to keep the hospital operating.

If Kadlec’s nurses vote to strike this month, the law requires 10 days notice to allow the hospital to make arrangements for patient care, which could again bring in other nurses or defer patients to other hospitals.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.