Washington Hospital Center's nurses decided to cancel a one-day strike that
the union had planned for the day before Thanksgiving. Hospital management
agreed to postpone controversial wage cuts. Both parties issued a joint
statement that announced an agreement to resume negotiations yesterday, November
29 with the help of a federal mediator. Talks will continue over the next 90
days without the threat of a strike.
Hospital managers also agreed to recognizer National Nurses United as the
collective bargaining representative of its 1,600 nurses working at the Center,
which is the region's largest private hospital. "We are actually very delighted
with this arrangement," said Janis Orlowski, the hospital's chief medical
officer. Because the nurses called off the strike and agreed not to do so for
another three months, the hospital delayed the cuts in pay differentials that
nurses receive for working evenings, nights, and weekends from January 2 to
March 1. A veteran nurse at the hospital, Jean Keppler, said the nurses were
pleased that the hospital had recognized "the will of the nurses represented by
NNU." Keppler added, "The nurses are united and resolved to secure a new
collective bargaining agreement that respects our hard work and that allows for
optimal, high-quality patient care."
Until this decision was reached, the labor dispute between nurses and the
hospital grew increasingly contentious after the one-year contract expired. On
October 1, the hospital imposed its final offer, which included the divisive
cuts to the pay differentials. Key issues for the nurses included wages,
benefits, safe staffing, the firing of 18 nurses who did not report to work
during February snowstorms, and other issues.
In the fray, the local nurses' union joined forces with National Nurses United,
the 155,000 member strong organization that is the largest nurses' union in the
country. On November 1, the new union filed a complaint with the District health
department seeking an investigation of staffing and patient care. Hospital
officials denied that nurses were caring for too many patients or that patient
care was thus compromised.
Hospital officials had anticipated a strike like the one threatened for today
and had been preparing for potential job action for several months. Orlowski
said the hospital had a contract with a nurse staffing agency "for several
million dollars" to provide replacement nurses. Officials decided to bar any
nurse who participated in the one-day strike from working for five days because
the hospital had to pay temporary nurses for a minimum of 60 hours of work. The
hospital requires about 600 nurses daily to staff the hospital.
When the strike was announced, the hospital responded, saying, "We are
disappointed that a union, new to this area and our hospital, has taken this
step, and made untrue, unfair allegations about the quality of patient care at
Washington Hospital Center. We remain hopeful that differences can be resolved
without a job action." This recent step down satisfied the hospitals wishes that
"our nurses will choose to stay at the bedside to care for our patients."