Nurses and Health Care Workers at Maui Health System Vote to Approve Their New Contract
Agreement benefits patients, the community, and workers
News Release from United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaii, March 8, 2021
MAUI— Registered nurses and health care workers of Maui Health System (MHS) voted overwhelmingly to approve their new contract with MHS over a 24-hour voting period from 9 p.m. on Friday, March 5 through 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 6.
The contract rewards the risks taken and sacrifices made by these workers during the pandemic, while addressing other significant issues such as retention of experienced nurses, bringing up the wages of the lowest-paid workers, and giving employees a voice in patient care.
The contract comes after eight months of negotiations which began on June 15, 2020 and ended with a tentative agreement in the early morning hours of February 26, assisted by a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). The previous contract expired on June 30, 2020 but was extended by mutual agreement between the union and management numerous times during the course of bargaining.
“My number one purpose in this contract was to win us a strong voice in patient care in our hospital, because we’re an asset to this community,” said Liz Linares, RN, co-chair of United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaii (UNHCEH), a chapter of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP).
The contract gives frontline staff a direct say in patient care and other hospital issues by establishing new committees or creating seats for union members on existing committees. These include a new Labor-Management Committee composed of equal numbers of union members and management for collaborative problem-solving; union member seats on MHS’s existing committees for Clinical Practice, and Health and Safety; and creation of a new Staffing Subcommittee. The Staffing Subcommittee will explore methodologies for safe staffing that consider not just numbers of patients assigned to each nurse or caregiver, but also acuity—i.e., severity of a patient’s condition. The contract also sets forth expectations and guidelines for safe floating for RNs and non-RNs—where nurses or other staff “float” from their usual unit to another as back-up. The new guidelines consider staff members’ relevant training and clinical experience in each specialized unit to ensure that floating maximizes patient safety.
“We secured improvements in this new contract that will benefit the community as a whole as well as the staff,” said Philip Velasco, UNHCEH chair. “We did make financial gains, but just being able to provide improved care for the community is very important.”
While many health care unions have seen takeaways during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNHCEH contract saw only gains. Some of the economic improvements include across-the-board wage increases of more than 4% in 2021; increases to the wage grid to attract talent to the hospital; and wage increases targeted toward some of the lowest paid employees.
“People tend to focus on nursing,” said Velasco, “but it takes everybody, including those not generally noticed like admitting clerks, financials clerks, imaging techs, and others, to provide the needed services that benefit our patients.”
United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) represents more than 32,000 registered nurses, health care professionals, and ancillary staff in California and Hawaii, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners; admitting clerks, imaging techs, financial counselors, and more. UNAC/UHCP is affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.