St. Elizabeth nurses agree to two-year pact

Continued labor unrest at Enumclaw’s St. Elizabeth Hospital was averted when registered nurses ratified a contract that keeps them on the job until April 2013.

Nurses voted at the hospital March 22, agreeing to terms that had been hammered out the week prior. The day of the vote was significant, as nurses had planned a one-day strike for that date. When a tentative contract was arrived at, the strike was called off.

Registered nurses had been working without a contract since March 2010, first at Enumclaw Regional Hospital and then at the new St. Elizabeth. In February, Franciscan Health System opened St. Elizabeth, replacing ERH.

“We are very pleased that members of the nursing staff have voted to accept this contract offer,” said hospital President Dennis Popp. “With the new contract in place, we can now focus on working together to provide area residents expert care close to home in our new facility.”

Approximately 100 hospital nurses are represented by Service Employees International Union. The hospital and the union had been in contract negotiations for about a year.

Terms of the new labor pact were not made entirely clear.

There was nothing coming from the Franciscan side, as the organization opted to stay mum on the issue, except to acknowledge a new contract was in place.

“We, as an organization, have decided we’re not going to discuss details of the contract,” said Franciscan spokesman Gale Robinette.

Kelly Patton, a St. Elizabeth nurse and a member of the negotiating team, said nurses made “baby steps” through the bargaining process.

The most significant advancement, she said, is a peer-elected nurse from each hospital department will now sit on the Professional Practice Committee.

Nurses had been vocal in their desire to see the nurse-to-patient ratio decreased, citing patient safety as a primary concern.

Patton said nurses will keep a close eye on staffing levels, adding they’re happy with the current ratio of four patients for each nurse.

Last week’s labor agreement applies only to St. Elizabeth Hospital. Franciscan Health System operates four other hospitals and numerous clinics throughout the South Puget Sound region.

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