WhidbeyHealth and nurses union at stalemate in bargaining

Members of the local nurses union seem to like what the new WhidbeyHealth CEO has to say; now they are waiting to see if his administration’s actions match his words.

WhidbeyHealth and the nurses union seem to be at a halting point in contract negotiations, although there is hope that with new leadership there will be positive momentum.

The Washington State Nurses Association has been negotiating with the hospital district since February; the union’s previous contract ran out March 31. The employees are covered by an “evergreen year,” meaning the contract automatically renews for another year.

Negotiators understand the hospital has been in poor financial condition, according to Ann Bell, who has been a nurse at WhidbeyHealth for 20 years and is on the bargaining team.

“We’re just asking for things that have to do with respect,” Bell said.

The union is asking for a “small” raise, she said, because the district’s wages are falling behind comparably sized hospitals in the area.

The other main sticking points revolve around CEO Ron Telles committing to attend a staffing committee meeting once a year, an agreement to consider wage increases when the hospital is on “sound financial footing” and protection for the contracts if the hospital were to be sold, according to Ruth Schubert, nurses union communications director.

The price of housing is a significant factor in asking for some kind of raise, according to Bell.

“It’s definitely going to get harder and harder for nurses to be able to afford houses or rent,” she said.

The groups have completed eight negotiation sessions, the last of which happened on May 23.

According to the union website, WhidbeyHealth has continued to offer no wage increase and no economic concessions.

“They continue to state they are in a financial situation that is not improving,” the website says.

Bell acknowledged that throughout the last several years of financial turbulence, hospital staff morale has been low. But she has hope.

She said Telles has maintained consistent communication with employees and kept a positive outlook.

“If he can put those positive words and make real action out of those words, then things are going to be great,” Bell said, “but if he doesn’t, that’s what we’re worried about.”

WhidbeyHealth could not be reached for comment by press time.

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