Washoe Med nurses end 24-hour walkout with prayer vigil
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Nurses at northern Nevada’s largest hospital ended a 24-hour strike with a prayer vigil Wednesday but continued a public campaign to try to rekindle negotiations with Washoe Medical Center.
”Your cause is just; your cause is right,” Bill Freitas, a director of Operating Engineers Local 3, told about 40 nurses and others who attended the early morning prayer vigil at Pickett Park.
At the 529-bed hospital across the street, officials said the strike caused no disruptions and everything was business as usual.
”It is just going better than even expected, and we had very high hopes that it would go well,” said Washoe Med spokeswoman Judy Davis.
The one-day walkout targeting six of the hospital’s 21-nursing units began at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Organizers estimate 250-300 nurses participated in picketing throughout the day.
The striking nurses, however, were told they cannot return to their jobs until Sunday because 70 replacement workers were hired for a five-day minimum. The Washoe Med nurses said they will use the time to distribute informational leaflets at hospital entrances.
”We believe an informed public makes demands,” Freitas said.
Davis said none of the striking nurses attempted to return to their jobs Wednesday, ”so we haven’t had to address that issue.”
Some nurses from non-striking units who joined the picket line intermittently described working conditions during the strike as tense.
”Everybody’s angry,” said Scottie Hendrickson, an RN who works in orthopedics.
Davis offered a different perspective.
”The replacement nurses have been very, very professional; they’re very competent,” she said. ”Our nurses are very comfortable working with them.
”There’s been a real sense of team spirit.”
The strike was staged to protest the union’s allegations of unfair labor practices and what nurses claim are unsafe staffing levels. It was the latest action in the ongoing dispute that began when nurses voted in July 1999 to be represented by the Operating Engineers.
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.
The union filed grievances of unfair labor practices against the hospital and 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.
Nurses say the main issue is staffing as it relates to patient care.
”A lot of times it borders on dangerous,” said Sean Galvin, an emergency room nurse.
Ruth Flack, who’s worked at the hospital for 13 years, said she doesn’t like the confrontation with administrators.
”But it’s almost like you have to because they don’t want us to have a voice,” she said. ”Staffing, that’s what this issue is about.
”They keep adding on tasks and tasks and more and more patients,” Flack said. ”The community needs to be aware of what’s going on.”
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