Washoe Med, nurses union, return to bargaining table
RENO (AP) – Washoe Medical Center and union negotiators met Wednesday for the first time in months in an effort to resume contract talks and end a labor stalemate with nurses.
”I hope today is one huge step forward and we have a contract to sign,” said Carin Franklin, a registered nurse and an organizer for Operating Engineers Local 3.
Hospital officials agreed.
”We would like nothing better than to come out of the session today and have all outstanding issues resolved,” said Washoe Med spokeswoman Judy Davis.
Nurses in select units at northern Nevada’s largest hospital staged a 24-hour strike June 26 to protest allegations of unfair labor practices by the hospital and bring attention to the labor dispute.
Wednesday’s talks marked the first time the two sides had met since negotiations broke down in March when the nurses rejected what the hospital said was its final contract offer.
The union said the proposal was rejected because it did not give nurses a voice in setting staffing levels, which they claim are so deficient at times that they jeopardize patient care.
Hospital officials maintain nurses have always had input and denied the union’s accusation that patient care is compromised by low staffing.
Bill Freitas, an Operating Engineers director and member of the negotiating team, referenced a July 10 report from the General Accounting Office that said the nationwide nursing shortage will likely get worse as the population ages and the number of nurses continues to decline.
In Nevada, the ratio of nurses per 100,000 population dropped from 580 in 1996 to 520 in 2000 – a decrease of 10.3 percent, the report said.
It also also cited high levels of job dissatisfaction among nurses as discouraging others from going into the profession.
”The GAO report absolutely validates what the nurses have been saying,” Freitas said.
”We’re here to address these problems,” he said. ”Washoe Med has a unique opportunity to move forward and be on the cutting edge – to truly have input from the nurses without fear of being blacklisted, of reprisal.”
Davis said Washoe Med’s staffing is a reflection of the nationwide problem.
”We have open positions that we’d love to fill. There simply are not trained nurses out there,” she said.
To meet staffing demands, she said nurses are asked to work extra hours when needed, but are not required to do so. Other times, temporary, traveling nurses are hired to fill gaps.
”We would not be in the business of providing health care if safety and quality of care were not paramount,” she said.
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