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New contract for Hawaii health care workers to benefit patients, community

In February, hundreds of UNAC/ UHCP members circled Maui Memorial Medical Center and demanded their sacrifices be recognized in ongoing contract negotiations.
New contract for Hawaii health care workers to benefit patients, community

Registered nurses (RNs) and other health care workers of Maui Health System (MHS) in Hawaii have overwhelmingly approved a new contract that will benefit their patients and their community and reward the AFSCME-represented workers for taking risks and making sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic.

The four-year contract, which covers more than 900 wall-to-wall workers, addresses significant issues such as retaining experienced nurses, increasing the wages of the lowest-paid workers and giving employees a voice in patient care. It was ratified earlier this month. 

It is the product of eight months of negotiations that began last June and culminated in a massive vehicle parade on Feb. 12 to demand that management recognize their sacrifices during this year of pandemic. Two weeks later, a tentative agreement was reached on Feb. 26. A federal mediator helped both sides reach a deal. The previous contract expired last June 30, but was extended.

“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, an RN and 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).

UNAC/UHCP, an AFSCME affiliate, represents more than 32,000 RNs, health care professionals and ancillary staff in California and Hawaii.

The contract gives front-line staff a direct say in patient care and other hospital issues by establishing new committees or creating seats for union members on existing panels that deal with clinical practice and health and safety. A new subcommittee will be formed to boost staffing so nurses handle a safe number of patients and prioritize care based on the severity of each patient’s condition.

The contract also sets forth expectations and guidelines for safe “floating” – a practice under which nurses and other staff “float” from their usual unit to another where additional hands are needed. The guidelines will consider staff members’ relevant training and clinical experience in each specialized unit to ensure 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, RN, UNHCEH co-chair. “We did make financial gains, but being able to provide better care for the community is very important to us.”

While many health care unions have seen takeaways during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNHCEH contract saw 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 recognized, like admitting clerks, financial clerks, imaging techs and others, to provide the needed services that benefit our patients.”

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