Washington Hospital Center, nurses strike deal

Ben Fischer, Washington Business Journal, May 4, 2011

A labor dispute between Washington Hospital Center and nurses appears to be settled.

After four threatened strikes, one work stoppage and a year of ill will, Washington Hospital Center and National Nurses United have reached a tentative deal on a new labor contract.

The union’s nearly 1,700 members will meet on Friday and Saturday to vote to ratify the contract. Both sides agreed to not disclose details prior to final approval.

“We are very pleased to have a tentative agreement that represents the hard work and commitment of both sides for a fair contract that values our nurses’ commitment to patients and their care,” said Washington Hospital Center President John Sullivan in a prepared statement.

Nurses and the hospital, operated by Columbia, Maryland-based MedStar Health, had been at odds over the hospital’s decision to change the way nurses are compensated for less desirable night and weekend shifts, which the nurses said effectively cut their wages. The hospital switched the wage differentials from a percentage of base pay to a flat hourly rate.

For months, both sides reported virtually no progress. But that changed abruptly this week. The two sides met for extended bargaining sessions both Monday and Tuesday before striking a deal late Tuesday evening.

“We are pleased to have achieved an agreement with the hospital that strengthens our ability to effectively advocate for our patients and protects RN professional and economic standards,” said Lori Marlowe, a member of the union’s bargaining team.

The deal comes a week after the hospital laid off 200 employees, citing severe financial pressures caused by bed taxes imposed by DC government, cutbacks in Medicaid revenues and declining patient volumes. Earlier in May, the union had threatened to call a second one-day strike, but canceled a strike authorization vote after the hospital prohibited them from using an on-campus meeting room. Around that time, Sullivan sent a letter advising of the layoffs.

The union’s informational picket planned for Friday has been canceled.

benfischer@bizjournals.com or 703.258.0828.