The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) has notified Kittitas Valley Community Hospital that they will conduct informational picketing between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 17. Informational picketing is not the same as a strike and will not cause a work stoppage or interruption of patient care. It is illegal for public hospital district employees to strike.
Over the past year, KVCH and WSNA have been working to agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement. On January 2, 2013, KVCH presented WSNA with a last and best offer package, and requested a vote by January 31.
"KVCH is committed to ensuring that there is no interruption to patient care due to informational picketing," according to CEO Paul Nurick. "We are also hopeful that WSNA will allow its members to vote on the last, best offer package that was presented in early January."
The last, best offer package offered by KVCH comes during a time of persistent economic distress for rural hospitals nationwide. However, the package offered to nurses preserves pay raises through "step increases" for experience. These increases range from 2.1 percent to 3.4 percent at least every other year for nurses working 20 or more hours per week. The median increase that WSNA members received each year between 2007 and 2011 was 6.5 percent.
"We are proud of the salary and benefits package that WSNA represented nurses receive at KVCH," continued Nurick. At every experience level, the salaries of KVCH nurses are in the top three of eight hospitals in Central Washington, with a 2011 annual median wage of $43.41 per hour.
While many other hospitals in Washington State have been engaging in layoffs, reductions in force, and furloughs, KVCH has focused on sound management practices and responsible fiscal decisions, allowing the organization to maintain a stable workforce. KVCH has also withdrawn a previous proposal to create a separate, lower wage scale for Home Health and Hospice nurses despite rapidly falling reimbursement rates by the federal government.
"It would be financially irresponsible to commit to annual increases beyond the step increases currently paid," said Libby Allgood, Chief Financial Officer. "But we are proposing to offer an additional increase based on the positive financial performance of the organization." If the organization achieves a positive operating margin above a certain threshold, all employees would receive an additional wage increase. If the organization does not do well financially, the additional increase would not be given.
"Nurses are an integral part of the medical team at KVCH," said Nurick. "We came to a similar agreement in 2012 with our employees represented by Teamsters, and we hope that we will have a new agreement with WSNA in the near future."