Unhappy nurses at Enumclaw Regional Hospital go public

Armed with a megaphone and picket signs, registered nurses from Enumclaw Regional Hospital took to the street last week, complaining loudly that they have been working under terms of an expired contract for months.

Their displeasure was aimed not at the local hospital, but rather at Franciscan Health Systems. As owner of the hospital, FHS handles the negotiating and controls the purse strings.

While nurses and their union representatives took their cause public, Franciscan chose to go the quiet route, but was adamant that nurses are a crucial and valued part of the healing process.

The hospital’s 100-plus registered nurses are represented by Service Employees International Union.

A union vice president told them Oct. 12, “The commitment by Franciscan is sorely lacking,” while calling on FHS representatives to return to the bargaining table.

Nurses are presently working under terms of a contract that expired the last day of March. As of late last week, another face-to-face meeting between Franciscan and the union had not been scheduled.

During the rally, nurses said the important issue is staffing. They are lobbying for a ratio of one nurse for every four patients and claim that anything less puts patients at risk. When nurses are spread too thin, they say, bad things can happen.

Nurses made it clear they believe Franciscan can afford a better contract, chanting, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, Franciscan pockets are lined with gold.”

A second chant was aimed at the perceived lack of progress in bargaining: “FHS, rich and rude, we don’t like your attitude.”

One area of agreement was that last week’s informational picket did not disrupt patient care at the hospital. Participating nurses were protesting during their private time.

It also was pointed out that the union has no plans for a walkout.

Franciscan spokesman Gale Robinette admitted “talks are going at a slower pace than we had hoped,” but emphasized the value FHS places on its nurses.

Registered nurses “are essential and valued members of our health care team,” he said.

Robinette said Franciscan offers “competitive wages and excellent benefits” and said nurses’ salaries have increased 8 percent since May 2007. With regard to staffing, he said the number of registered nurses has increased from 81 to 108 since Franciscan took control of the hospital in 2007.

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