St. Joseph nurses launch informational picket before next round of talks

Nurses with CHI Franciscan St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma held an informational picket at the hospital Thursday.

The nurses, who have been in contract negotiations for seven months, sought to bring attention to issues at the bargaining table and a complaint against St. Joseph they filed with the state about workplace safety.

In a response emailed to The News Tribune, CHI Franciscan said it is committed to working in good faith with the nurses on both labor and safety issues.

Washington State Nurses Association represent the registered nurses in the contract talks. Another round of negotiations is set for Friday, (March 22).

The nurses are calling for a commitment to minimum-staffing standards that would allow them to take rest and meal breaks as well as their paid time off. They also want market-competitive wages to improve recruiting and retention.

WSNA also filed a complaint in October with the state Department of Labor & Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

According to the complaint, St. Joseph “failed to furnish its employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards causing or likely to cause serious injury or death to its employees.”

The complaint described that over several weeks a patient “repeatedly physically assaulted and threatened to kill numerous employees, punching, kicking and scratching employees and inflicting serious injuries on several of them.”

The complaint also stated that St. Joseph “failed to provide adequate employee education and training in order to prevent workplace violence,” and “failed (to) conduct a safety committee.”

According to L&I, a meeting with stakeholders was held March 5, where a summary of potential violations and fines was given. A media representative for L&I told The News Tribune on Thursday morning that the total fine and nature of violations could change before final citations are issued.

Janet Stewart, a critical care nurse at St. Joseph, said the hospital needs to do more to protect nurses from violent patients.

“We want something in writing that says we’ll have security and we’ll be protected,” Stewart said in a WSNA release. “The nurses, we’re stuck. We’re stuck taking care of violent patients without adequate protection.”

CHI Franciscan said in its statement that is committed to providing a safe workplace.

“St. Joseph Medical Center is committed to a safe and healing environment for all patients and staff,” the response states. “A Security Taskforce, made up of hospital employees, is focused on maintaining and improving workplace safety. Their work includes developing and implementing new protocols, procedures, programs, and trainings around violence prevention.”

In regard to the labor talks, the health system said: “We value our registered nurses and are committed to providing a quality work environment with competitive wages and benefits that attract and retain the very best.

“We respect the collective bargaining process and, as we move forward with ongoing negotiations, patients at St. Joseph Medical Center can expect to receive uninterrupted, quality care.”