Will Tacoma General nurses go on strike?

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

Nurses at Tacoma General Hospital could vote in mid-December on whether to authorize a strike.

The announcement comes amid talks between nurses and MultiCare Health System management over issues including the “break buddy” system, which allows a nurse to take two 15-minute breaks per shift while another nurse watches over both of their patients.

Nurses say it will be better for their patients, and nurses’ peace of mind, to hire separate nurses to cover breaks. Hospital executives have said that would cost $13 million.

The nurses have worked without a contract since late 2015.

Ruth Schubert, spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association said after the vote, the final decision on the timing and type of strike rests with the bargaining team and Washington State Nurses Association.

The planned Dec. 16 strike advisory vote comes two days after a federal mediation session. Schubert said it’s possible the strike vote could be canceled if the two groups come to an accord.

“It has been a really grueling negotiation,” she said. “Hope springs eternal, but we are not counting on reaching an agreement.”

Nurses earlier this month refused extra shifts and overtime to show their displeasure with how contract talks were going. MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards said earlier this month that the hospital had made preparations for the boycott and the hospital was able to care for patients who came to Tacoma General for care.

If nurses do approve a strike, Schubert said they are likely to wait until after the holidays to give the hospital time to bring in extra workers.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports