Tacoma General nurses plan weeklong boycott of extra shifts

Nurses picket June 27 in front of Multicare’s Tacoma General Hospital.
Nurses picket June 27 in front of Multicare’s Tacoma General Hospital. Staff file, 2016

Nurses at Tacoma General Hospital plan for a week to refuse to take extra shifts or voluntary overtime to protest hospital work practices.

The boycott of extra shifts is scheduled for Thursday to Nov. 17, according to a news release from the Washington State Nurses Association.

“We hope turning down voluntary overtime and extra shifts will demonstrate to management in a very concrete way that the nurses are being stretched too thin,” said registered nurse Renata Bowlden, a Washington State Nurses Association bargaining team member in Monday’s news release.

Nurses have said the hospital frequently calls nurses to come in for extra shifts. The extra work leads to burnout and nurse turnover, Bowlden said in an interview last summer.

The union has been bargaining with MultiCare Health System, Tacoma General’s owner, for nearly a year.

One issue in contention is the hospital’s “break buddy” system, which allows a nurse to take two 15-minute breaks per shift while another nurse watches over both of their patients. An arbitrator said the practice should be discontinued. MultiCare petitioned a federal court to have the decision overturned.

Instead, the nurses say the hospital should hire a dedicated nurse to cover breaks.

But it would cost $13 million to hire 120 nurses to cover breaks at the hospital, wrote Linda Dean and Anita Wolfe, who are chief nurse executive for cardiovascular services for MultiCare Health System and chief nurse executive for MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, respectively. They co-authored an op-ed in The News Tribune in March.

“The break buddy system is the most flexible, efficient and cost-effective solution,” Dean and Wolfe wrote.

They wrote that turnover paired with a nationwide nurses shortage has caused short-staffing at Tacoma General.

MultiCare CEO Bill Robertson said in July that the break-buddy system is the most flexible and is widely used in health care.

The union and MultiCare started another round of federal mediation sessions Tuesday. The nurses also seek better wages and benefits.

MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards said the hospital system was aware some nurses would decline extra shifts starting Thursday.

“We have made preparations for this and are confident that we will continue to be able to take care of the patients who come to us for care,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

Information from The News Tribune archives was included in this report.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports