Nurses picket, say staffing levels at Washoe Med unsafe
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Nurses picketed Washoe Medical Center on Tuesday to protest allegations of unfair labor practices and complain about what they call unsafe staffing levels at northern Nevada’s largest hospital.
Washoe Medical’s administrators said the walkout did not disrupt the 529-bed hospital, which hired 70 replacement nurses for the striking workers.
”Everything is going very smoothly,” said Judy Watland, vice president and chief nursing officer.
The 24-hour protest was the latest development in a labor dispute that began when nurses voted in July 1999 to be represented by Operating Engineers Local 3.
After 16 months of bargaining, contract negotiations broke down in March and no talks have been held since.
Both sides claim they are willing to resume talks and blame the other for the stalemate that led to Tuesday’s walkout by nurses in six of the hospital’s 21 nursing units – cardiac intensive care, emergency room, intensive care nursery, MRI, neurology and telemetry.
Hospital officials said the next move was the union’s after nurses rejected their final officer in March.
”They didn’t give us any kind of counter proposal to consider,” Watland said.
”We have not received any request to go back to the bargaining table,” said Lynn Atcheson, the hospital’s vice president of communications.
Union director Bill Freitas disagreed.
”The fact is, they told us across the table that we have no reason to meet anymore, it’s over,” he said.
Carin Franklin, union organizer and a registered nurse, said nurses overwhelmingly rejected the hospital’s last contract offer because it did not involve nurses in setting staffing levels.
Watland said negotiators tentatively agreed to establish a committee to consider staffing issues before talks broke down.
”Their opinion counts,” Watland said of the nurses.
But nurses and union representatives said the provision amounted to ”fluff.”
”It means nothing and it says nothing,” Freitas said. ”It says staffing on it but it has nothing to do with some kind of ability to have a say in it.”
The union filed complaints of unfair labor practices against the hospital, alleging administrators illegally withheld wage increases; refused to let nurses distribute union literature before the election; and illegally imposed a contract overwhelmingly rejected by nurses.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued complaints on the allegations. An Aug. 24 hearing is scheduled before an administrative law judge.
Hospital officials said the allegations are without merit.
Tuesday’s picketing was staged to protest the unfair labor allegations, though nurses say the main issue is staffing as it relates to patient care.
Demonstrators carried signs reading ”Unfair Labor Practices,” and wore buttons that read, ”One More Day.”
”You will stand one day longer than this employer can stand the heat,” Freitas told a midmorning gathering of about 100 nurses and supporters at Pickett Park across from the hospital.
”There are no winners,” a tearful Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, told the crowd. Freeman, a former hospital board member, was joined at the rally by Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.
Both urged administrators to resume bargaining.
”Are they so afraid of unions that they’re willing to come to this?” Freeman asked.
”Two years is too long,” said Melissa Gilgert, an intensive care nurse who said she’s had to care for as many as 13 patients at one time.
”These are your mothers, your brothers, your sisters, your friends,” she said. ”I want to see this wrapped up so everyone can get back to work and focus on quality care.”
Organizers planned to return to the park at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, after the 24-hour picketing, to hold a prayer vigil for patients.
Hospital officials have said because the contract with the replacement nurses requires a five-day minimum, any striking nurses who return to their jobs after the one-day walkout will be asked to go home unless they are needed.
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