- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Momentum has slowed in talks to end a 2-week-old strike by nearly 1,500 nurses at Washington Hospital Center over pay and working conditions.

Hospital officials and a union representing the nurses agreed yesterday on vacation policy, but not much else, during 18 hours of federally mediated talks downtown that began Saturday and ended Sunday afternoon.

"I don't see a lot of momentum here on the other side," said Lisa Wyatt, vice president of public affairs at Washington Hospital Center. "[The union is] working on another proposal, and our team has literally been waiting all day."

The nurses originally proposed more vacation and to be able to take time off between July and August, months with the most hospital traffic. Saturday, the nurses agreed to maintain the existing vacation allotment.

Under the agreement, nurses in the first year of the new contract would get 19 paid days off. Vacation days would increase gradually each year, capping out at 31 days off after 15 years of work.

"When you look at the progress, it's been made because the nurses union has been willing to work creatively to address those issues," said Gwendylon Johnson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Nurses Association union, which is representing the nurses in the talks.

Issues such as mandatory overtime, patient-to-nurse ratios, nurses representation on hospital committees, and salary increases, were barely addressed.

Salary increases, one of the core issues, remained unresolved even after the nurses reduced their demands in talks last week. That and the issue of mandatory overtime, for which the hospital made a proposal Saturday, continue to divide the two parties.

Nurses in 41 of 45 units of the hospital are seldom required to work mandatory overtime, Ms. Wyatt said.

Those nurses in the critical-care units that are often required to work more than 40 hours per week, would get the standard overtime benefit, time and a half, plus an additional $10 per hour.

"These are units where we have the sickest patients, patients who need care 24 hours a day seven days week," said Dr. James Howard, medical director of the hospital. Those nurses would have to work no more than five shifts of mandatory overtime over a six-week period.

"We're offering a cap, which is very, very fair, especially in areas of very high volume," Ms. Wyatt said.

The hospital's original offer gave nurses in the 41 noncritical units no more than two shifts of mandatory overtime in a six-week period.

"Many of the nurses want to work overtime, but there is some overtime required [for everyone] because we are a 24-by-7 operation," Dr. Howard said.

It goes with the career, he explained.

The two sides had planned to resume negotiations yesterday to discuss other issues. But the union decided, instead, to draw up another proposal for the hospital.

"The issues still are the patient-care issues, the nurses sitting on the committees, the weekend alternative programs, nurses being able to work permanent shifts, those kinds of issues," said Karen Scipio-Skinner, legislation/practice associate for the D.C. Nurses Association.

Meanwhile, the hospital officials said they were waiting for the union to return to talks.

"We thought we had a very good proposal on the table," said Vickie Houck, attorney for Morgan Lewis & Bockius, the hospital's negotiator.

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