Kadlec nurses, supporters rally as contract talks continue

A bicyclist gives high-fives to Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses gathered Monday afternoon along George Washington Way near John Dam Plaza in Richland for a union rally.
A bicyclist gives high-fives to Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses gathered Monday afternoon along George Washington Way near John Dam Plaza in Richland for a union rally. Tri-City Herald

Hundreds of Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses and their supporters rallied at John Dam Plaza in Richland on Monday afternoon, chanting, waving signs and calling for a fair contract after months of negotiations have failed to yield a new pact.

“There was a time when Kadlec chose to value its RNs,” said Kelsi Duncan, a neonatal intensive-care nurse and part of the negotiating team. “They chose to reward their nurses with competitive pay and compensation in the way of time off. Because there was a time when Kadlec realized how important time away from the hospital was.”

“There was a time when Kadlec treated all of its employees with appreciation,” Duncan said. “A time when the bottom dollar was not priority No. 1. I’m sorry to say it feels like those times are gone.”

Negotiations for a new three-year contract, covering about 813 nurses at the Richland hospital, started in May.

The main sticking points have to do with staffing levels and paid time off.

The hospital “refuses to agree to language assuring proper staffing to provide necessary and legally mandated rest and meal breaks,” according to information from the Washington State Nurses Association, which represents the nurses. “Rather than instituting another process, (the association) wants national nurse-to-patient ratios to assure safe staffing levels at all times including meal and rest breaks.”

The hospital also won’t let nurses enroll in the new medical benefits plan without permanent cuts in paid sick and vacation leave and the elimination of the Extended Illness Bank, which can be used when an employee or a family member becomes sick, the association said. The bank would be replaced with short-term disability, which couldn’t be used if a family member became sick, among other issues.

Nurses said they’re frustrated with the negotiations, which have taken much longer than usual.

Kadlec affiliated with the larger Providence Health & Services in 2014, and “it is definitely a different beast this time around,” said Gary Cook, an intensive-care nurse and member of the negotiating team. “It has a totally different feel.”

In a statement, Kadlec officials said they remain committed to negotiating in good faith.

“We have made progress toward a new agreement, but there are still issues to resolve. We are not discussing details to respect the process and keep the talks at the table,” the statement said.

“We believe together with our nurses we can come to a successful resolution to this process. Our nurses are key members of our caregiver team and we look forward to coming to an agreement on a new contract. We all share the same goal of making sure that we continue to provide high-quality, compassionate care to our community,” the statement said.

The rally drew nurses, family members and others from the community. A representative from a local building trades union also spoke, along with a Pasco Association of Educators official. Pasco teachers went on strike for several days in late summer after a contract couldn’t be reached.

Kadlec nurses said they want to see their new pact reached soon.

“We are hopeful,” Cook said. “We’re always hopeful. It would be great if we got it done Wednesday (when the next negotiation session is set). It’s taken a long time.”

He added, “it’s not just about us ... It’s about the community and it’s about the patients. We have to be healthy ourselves in order to take care of the patients. If we’re squeezed and pushed and stretched and understaffed, then it makes it very difficult to care for our patients in the professional manner that we’re used to.”

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @SaraTCHerald