Kapiolani nurses to picket Wednesday over stalled negotiations and safety concerns


HONOLULU(KHON2) — After weeks of unsuccessful contract negotiations and with their contract now expired, the Hawaii Nurses Association said nurses at Kapiolani Medical Center plan to hold informational pickets fronting the hospital on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m.

[Hawaii news on the go–LISTEN to KHON 2GO weekday mornings at 7:30 a.m.]

Hawaii Nurses Association OPEIU Local 50 President Daniel Ross said it is not a strike. But they are picketing because they have concerns about questionable protocols that put healthcare professionals and patients at risk for COVID-19.

“We really feel that some of the practices that we’re doing are not best practices. We want to see the best practices. We want to see our workers protected and our patients protected,” Ross said.

Kapiolani Medical Center RN Paulette Vasu said she worries that she’ll take COVID-19 home to her family due to the hospital’s current protocols.

“We’re concerned that we have to reuse our N95 masks five times. We’re concerned that we have to take care of COVID positive patients and non-COVID patients in the same assignments. We want to work with management and develop some PPE guidelines but they refuse to work with us on that,” Vasu explained.

And she said they aren’t even testing workers who have had to care for COVID-19 patients.

“We’re not getting tested at work. Even if I’m exposed to a patient that has COVID, they’re not testing me to see if I have it,” Vasu said.

Kapiolani Medical Center CEO Martha Smith said safety is their number one priority.

“We believe we have excellent safety protocols in place,” Smith said. “And I can say that in this facility, we know it’s working because we have had no staff exposures due to a COVID-positive patient in our facility.”

Smith said talks stalled due to problems caused by the negotiator the union sent from the mainland.

“It does not seem that this negotiator has our nurses best interests in mind and does not seem willing to listen to any proposals. In fact, the other day, after swearing at everybody, he literally hung up the phone on them,” Smith said.

Smith said the supply chain for PPE is very fragile. They go to great lengths to sterilize the PPE before it’s reused and masks that are soiled are automatically tossed.

“We believe everybody has exactly what they need, and that the they are safe, and that we are following guidelines when we go through this process,” Smith said.

Ross said it’s the hospital that’s not willing to budge.

“Yesterday, we sat in caucus for hours waiting for management to come back with some counters or modifications. And they came back with with a letter that was insufficient and basically a review of all their positions that we already knew. So they just wasted our time for hours without moving.”

He said they hope the informational picket will make the public aware of what’s going on and hopefully get management moving.

“They say they responded to all of our proposals. They responded by saying, ‘we reject, we reject, we reject,'” Ross explained. “Management tends to act differently when things are in the public eye.”

Ross said management has also tried to make it seem like the nurses are holding out for more money. He said that’s not true. They are only asking for what is fair.

One of the areas of concern, according to Ross, is regarding mandatory overtime. The nurses currently get overtime pay if they are forced to work additional hours after completing their scheduled 12-hour shift. He said management put in a proposal to eliminate overtime pay except for what’s mandated by law, which is over 40 hours a week.

“It’s like penalty pay because management didn’t have enough people staffed. So there’s a penalty that they have to pay the nurse because the nurse didn’t get enough rest to come back to work when it’s less than 10 hours between their shifts, or has to work more than 12 hours in a row,” Ross explained.

Ross said upper management doesn’t get it cause they’re not at risk.

“Upper management isn’t the ones that are taking care of the patients and they’re making all the decisions for the people that are actually at the bedside. So we want the public to understand that it’s not about money. It’s about keeping people safe, keeping our family safe, our patient safe, the community safe. And that’s our biggest concern. If we’re not safe, then how can I give safe patient care?”

Informational picketing is not a strike. Ross said only nurses who are not working will be picketing. The union hopes to resume contract negotiations soon so things can be set straight.

“They want to handle the loss of the pandemic on the backs of the front line workers. And we’re not asking for any great gains, we just kind of want to hold our own as far as that goes. They were calling them heroes last week and then now they want to denigrate them as being greedy or something. And that’s not what it is, we’re not asking for money. We’re asking for a seat at the table in making decisions when it comes to the pandemic and our response to the pandemic.”

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