WAILUKU, Hawaii (KHON2) — It has been a week since nearly 500 health workers went on strike at Maui Health to demand better pay. A hospital nurse said they are starting to feel the impacts, claiming room cleaning, trash pick-up and fresh linens are running in short supply. 

Registered Nurse Jennifer Alakai works the overnight shift at the Maui Memorial Medical Center ICU; she said the week-long strike by United Public Workers is being felt. 

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Alakai and other nurses have started to take on extra responsibilities, like taking the trash out from patient rooms, changing linens and making sure they are stoked with supplies for the night shift. 

“You know, the saying you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Alakai said. “Now, we’re running to the next room to kind of break it down, get it ready to get cleaned, you know.” 

She said it has started to put a strain on her daily job despite Maui Health System’s claims that the hospital is getting help from contingency workers. 

United Public Workers union members voted to strike after eight months of negotiations with the hospital system. The union state president Kalani Werner does not go into specifics about what members are asking for and what the employer is offering but said better pay and keeping up with staffing levels are among the top issues. 

Werner said the union and Maui Health are set to continue bargaining on Monday, March 6. 

Werner said, “They were happy to finally hear that we were going back to the table. They really wanted to know if they could go back sooner.”

Alakai said she supports her UPW colleagues, as they all stood together to confront COVID and said she will not turn her back on them now. 

Alakai said, “I express it to them by picketing out with them. I express it to them by making sure we can hold it down as long as we can at the hospital.”

In a statement, Maui Health System said:

“We are working closely, and on a daily basis, with nursing leaders and department heads to coordinate and streamline all ancillary services, including housekeeping, to ensure they continue as scheduled. Additionally, our internal housekeeping request line is available 24/7 for staff to communicate any urgent or special housekeeping needs. As a reminder, if emergency medical care is needed, the emergency departments are available 24/7 to provide care. In addition, all hospital and facility entrances remain open and accessible for employees and providers, patients, and visitors. Maui Health’s contingency plan includes deploying staff to areas affected by the striking workers. This includes clinical and non-clinical staff, provided through multiple sources, with additional assistance arriving this week.”

Maui Health System

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Negotiations between the union and UPW are scheduled to resume on March 6.