- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

Washington Hospital Center nurses approved a new three-year contract late Wednesday night, ending their six-week strike.

An overwhelming number of Washington Hospital Center nurses voted for the contract, said Gwen Johnson, spokeswoman for the union portion of the D.C. Nurses Association. But she would not break down the results.

The new contract, which becomes active Monday when the nurses return to work, gives the hospital's 1,200 nurses a 14-percent wage increase over a three-year period, restricts the amount of mandatory overtime a nurse works, increases nurse representation on hospital committees, and improves health and safety standards in the hospital.

"This contract doesn't fix everything," said Mindy Blandon, a registered nurse at Washington Hospital Center and member of the negotiating team. "It's a good starting point."

The pay raise was a compromise between the nurses' original proposal of a wage increase between 22 percent and 28 percent over three years and the hospital's offer of a 16.5-percent pay raise over three years.

The contract also puts nurses in an overtime rotation. If a nurse cannot work extra hours because of fatigue or sickness, another nurse fills in.

"People can refuse, but if they do then they are next on the list for the next assignment," said Vickie Houck, attorney for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and negotiator for the hospital. However, no nurse can be required to work more than a 16-hour shift in one day under the new contract.

"There are still some episodes of overtime, but the contract does severely limit the number of times a nurse can be asked to work mandatory overtime," Ms. Johnson said.

On weekends, nurses will receive 10-hour bonus pay for two consecutive 12-hour shifts during the day on Saturday and Sunday. Nurses working two 12-hour night shifts on Saturday and Sunday will receive 14-hour bonus pay. The bonus is less than what nurses were previously making.

Ms. Blandon, who described the contract as a "building block," said the wage increases and the weekend program were not competitive with other hospitals, but the flexibility in the schedule convinced her to vote for it.

"The hospital proposal doesn't make us very competitive, but I'm hoping the other features of our agreement will attract nurses to not only come to our institution but to stay in our institution," she said.

From the hospital's perspective, lower wage increases leaves more money to recruit more nurses. So, the contract benefits everyone in the long run.

"Both sides gave in to a certain extent," Ms. Houck said.

The new contract also will give nurses a seat on five hospital committees in addition to the seven where they already have a say.

"This is a wonderful victory for patients as well as for nurses because it addresses strong patient safety and quality concern," Ms. Johnson said.

The hospital also agreed to move away from latex supplies and provide safer needles with protective shields for the nurses.

Hospital officials and the D.C. Nurses Association negotiated for weeks before the nurses began striking Sept. 20.

Throughout the strike, negotiators argued in the board room during sessions that lasted into the early morning, while nurses and community and labor leaders chanted on the picket lines for better working conditions and better pay.

The hospital hired temporary nurses from U.S. Nursing Corp. to work during the strike. Although those nurses cost the hospital $3 million, Dr. William Howard, medical director of Washington Hospital Center, said they were necessary for the hospital to care for its heavy October patient count.

Two days before a tentative agreement was reached, five nurses decided to fast until an agreement was reached, and John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, was arrested for civil disobedience on the picket lines.

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