Strike imminent as RI Hospital nurses reject final contract offer

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The nurses and other health care workers in the UNAP Local 5098 union at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s Hospitals have voted to reject a three-year contract offer from Lifespan, setting up a strike that will begin Monday afternoon.

“There were no good or easy choices today. But there was a right one,” Local 5098 President Frank Sims said in a statement after the vote. The statement did not include the vote total but described it as “overwhelmingly” in favor of the strike.

The hospital said it was “disappointed” but prepared to replace the nurses during the strike. Barring a last-minute surprise deal, the nurses will walk off the job on Monday afternoon. 

“I do believe we’ll be out on the pavement, on the sidewalks fighting hard and fighting strong,” said Tracie Galloway, a Hasbro ICU nurse who is on the union’s negotiating team.

Galloway said she’s not optimistic Lifespan will come to the nurses with a new offer before the strike.

“We had negotiations with the federal mediator, they didn’t go so well,” she said. “And we ended up with this lesser contract offer.” 

The later offer made by Lifespan on Tuesday is described by union leaders as economically worse than the one previously rejected by union members last Thursday.

Lifespan, the parent company of the two hospitals, says the offer had to be lowered after they paid $10 million to a contract agency on Tuesday, which will be bringing in replacement nurses because of the strike. 

A spokesperson said 100 of those temporary staffers were in trainings on Thursday, and those numbers wil increase through the weekend.

“Rhode Island Hospital is fully prepared for this possible work action,” Rhode Island Hospital spokesperson Christina O’Reilly said in a statement after the vote. “Patient care is our highest priority. We will have highly trained and skilled nurses and technicians in place to assist us in meeting our commitment to our patients and our community for the duration of the strike.”

Galloway said part of the reason she’s willing to strike is because of working conditions on the job, including a shortage of resources and staff to safely care for patients.

“There have been times where we had to wait to put someone on a respiratory machine because we didn’t have it,” she said. “And we had to wait for someone to come off of it in another building.”

A nurse at Rhode Island Hospital’s ICU told Eyewitness News a similar story on Wednesday.

“I think it’s unsafe that I have to leave my patient’s bedside to go answer the phone because I don’t have a secretary because there’s one secretary for my entire building,” Registered Nurse Anna Bigden said.

But O’Reilly said those issues were never brought up during the negotiations.

“The topic of on-the-job resources and staffing levels was never brought to the bargaining table by UNAP,” O’Reilly said in an email on Wednesday.

“In fact, Rhode Island Hospital has been recognized by national organizations for top marks on a number of safety and quality measures in recent years,” she said. “That’s due in no small part to the skill and vigilance of our nurses and technicians. We’re committed to supporting their excellence.”

The union pushed back on that claim, acknowledging much of the discussion was about salaries but insisting resources were discussed.

“While we have certainly worked to address economic security issues in this contract, we have absolutely discussed nurses and caregivers having an alarming lack of resources to the critical tools and supplies we need to provide the care our patients deserve,” Sims said.

The hospital says they offered raises ranging from 6% to 19.75% over three years, and what they called a “generous” non-deductible health insurance plan and a 6% 401(k) match. The union countered with 12% raises across the board over the three years.

While the strike is scheduled to last three days, Lifespan says it is contractually required to pay its temporary workers for four days. So union members plan to picket for a fourth day, into Friday of next week.

“This is just another in a series of petty and punitive tactics that Lifespan has used to force us into signing a contract that fails to recognize the commitment and skills we bring to the bedside, every day,” Sims said.

UNAP Local 5098 has never gone on strike in the history of the chapter.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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