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Home > Article Categories > Medical Articles > Washington Hospital Center Row Cools Down

Washington Hospital Center Row Cools Down

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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."


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