City Desk

Nurses Vote to Strike Over February Blizzard Firings


Even in sweltering August heat, this year's earlier pesky blizzard won't go away. Over the weekend, Nurses United, a union that represents 1,600 registered nurses at Washington Hospital Center (WHC), voted for a one-day strike. The union is demanding that the nurses who were fired following February's massive winter storms for not making it through the snow to work be reinstated with back pay, and that management ensures it doesn't violate hospital policies again.

The in-person secret ballot took place over a period of three-days, from Thursday to Saturday. Of the 675 nurses who voted, 78 percent voted to strike.

“The hospital center management chose to take an illegal path and make some illegal changes in their policy by threatening nurses and ultimately firing some who failed to get to work during the historic snowstorms,” says Stephen Frum, the chief shop steward for Nurses United.

WHC management circulated a last-minute memo, just before noon on Feb. 5, as snow started accumulating, in what would be the District's first blizzard of two that week. As City Desk has reported, the memo said, in Frum words, "despite what we’ve done in the past, if an associate is not going to get to work, you should advise them that their refusal will be considered insubordination."

“These firings and disciplines were handed out in violation of WHC’s written snow emergency policy to nurses who made every effort to get to work during the storm, including some who missed work during the first storm but slept at the hospital to be available during the second storm,” according to a Nurses United press release.

The firings took place under a previous management team. In June and early July, WHC replaced its president, senior vice president of human resources and its chief nursing officer. Their quiet departure, after years of employment at the hospital seems unusual, Frum adds. The current president, John Sullivan is also the fourth one WHC has had in the last 15 months.

"So now we're in a period where we're considering what to do, hoping that this strong message of solidarity and determination will convince the employer to change their mind. They can do that any time, they can do the right thing," Frum adds.

Despite the strike vote, the union has not notified the hospital leadership of the outcome, writes WHC spokeswoman So Young Pak in an e-mail. Pak added:

According to the Nurses United website, only 675 (or 42%) of our 1,600 nurses turned out to vote. This number does not represent the majority of Washington Hospital Center’s highly skilled nurses, and we feel that most of our nurses are actually interested in reaching a prompt and fair contract agreement, which is what we have been striving to do.

To address the nursing strike vote, we have a full contingency plan in place and will take all necessary steps, including bringing in qualified replacement nurses to care for our patients in the event of a strike.

Once Nurses United has made a decision on a day to strike, they'll give the hospital 10 days written notice. Despite the vote, Frum says, participation in the strike is voluntary—though he suspects 90 percent of the nurses will join it. WHC has dealt with two strikes by nurses, one in 1977 and one in 2000—both involving contract negotiations. The latter union action lasted 47 days and ended in a victory for the nurses, Frum says.

Issues at WHC span back as far as early 2009, according to union activists. Just as the possible strike looms, nurses are still in the middle of negotiating an employment contract with the hospital.

File photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Rick Mangus

    Walk out and strike, that's the way to do it, leave patient care behind and walk out for your own selfish and petty reasons! Washington Hospital Center should FIRE any of these people who negate there respon

  • Rick Mangus

    Continue: their responsibility as nurses!

  • Indeed


    Perhaps you are not aware, but this country faces a real shortage of nurses. If you've been in a hospital in the last five years, you will have seen a lot of nurses from the Phillipines. Hospitals are actually quite desperate.

    I agree that nurses need to do their jobs, but I also think that having an unbearable working environment completely discourages other people from going into the profession. People become nurses because they want to help care for people, not because they want to make a lot of money or because they want to be famous. Firing them in violation of written policy is just a real slap in the face.

  • downtown rez

    Certain jobs are exceptional in that they are critical to maintaining the moment-to-moment good of the general public. Jobs like firefighter, police person, doctors and nurses, the military, etc. None of those can be absent for even one minute without critical- even life and death- consequence.
    Governments and NGO's should try to negotiate in good faith with these civic servants but, if at the end they choose to strike, they must be fired. Because, if they strike, they have abdicated the great civic and moral responsibilities that are part and parcel with their chosen line of work. And by doing so they put all of us at risk.
    I hope this can be worked out.

  • blue penn

    I somewhat agree downtown rez, but let's not pretend our emergency services (EMT) are anywhere close to satisfactory. We can pontificate about the need to be on the job all we want. That unfortunately has nothing to do with the long-time very sorry state of our EMT services in DC. And it doesn't seem to be getting one bit better. Take care of yourself.

  • Know the truth

    The one fact all stories seem to ignore is that WHC sent out four wheel drive vehicles to pick up nurses. And one nurse who was fired and wailed the loudest to the Washington Post conveniently neglected to mention that one such vehicle sat outside her house and she refused to go outside, get in the vehicle and be driven to work. This story fails to mention that an arbitrator actually upheld her firing on a number of grounds, ruling that WHC had clearly documented its case and the fired nurse changed her testimony on a number of occasions.

    All of the firings have - thus far - been upheld in arbitration.

    Nurses are critical personnel. The lives of the patients depend on nurses being there to monitor, medicate, and provide care.

  • J

    If its true that SUVS were waiting to pick them up- then they need to shut the f up.

  • Mrs. D

    I have friends who work in several hospitals in DC. All of the hospitals that I know of (Sibley, Georgetown, and WHC) made 4-wheel-drive transportation available to their staff who could not otherwise get to and from work during the storm. While certain of the staff members I know did stay at the hospitals overnight or for several days, SUVs and trucks were also made available for staff to get home, and most of my friends were able to get home 2 or 3 nights during the 6-night run of the storm. Plus, when they were staying at the hospitals, they were paid a few bucks an hour just to sit around, sleep, etc. I'm sure it wasn't the most glamorous way to spend the snowstorm, but nothing about taking care of sick people is very glamorous.

  • Rick Mangus

    This is another case of union blackmail, give in or we will strike!, just like the criminal teachers union and the Metro transit union, who fight for incompetence and criminal behavior, screw them!

  • Indeed

    Perhaps we can get some references to the facts. anyone out there? Can we reference something besides stories that we've heard and want to share? If suvs were waiting outside these folks home, then sure they're lazy. But I would like more confirmation then an entry on a blog post on the city paper.

  • downtown rez

    How about the fact that plenty of people went to work that week- myself included- without the benefit of a company car or private chauffeur?

  • tired

    Rick what is this with the union bashing. Unions have made things bareable for alot of us with getting fair wages and disputes with management. So if you don't care for them that is your right but for me they are a godsend, except for the teacher's union her in DC remove George Parker he sold the teacher's out.

  • tired

    By the way nurse's union rocks!!!

  • WHC worst place to work

    About the nurse that refused to go outside when the truck was waiting;... If u work at WHC u know that u get a ride there but no ride back home, so u have to sleep there w/out pay until the road is clear or u can catch a cab. They should fire every department head and managers. They are the cause of all problems there. Patient care suffers, patient beware, in the military they rotate your boss every 4 years, they should do the same with Corp, w/ fresh ideas and actually help make the hospital a better place. I bet the president or higher ups didn't have to dig their cars out in the snow to get to work. Useless monguls.

  • Know the truth

    So I guess #14 confirms that indeed the nurse in question did refuse to go outside when a 4-wheel drive was waiting.

    Case closed.

  • Know the truth

    In regards to #14, it seems like you know much about WHC policy as I do. It seems we both may work there. I can assure the others, based on my position at WHC, that what I stated is indeed accurate and that it seems the nurses are constantly changing their stories and issues. As a nurse, you have an obligation to provide the best care to patients, if that means you stay during a disaster, so be are not alone, management was there all four days as well.

  • Rick Mangus

    'WHC worst place to work', if your job is so bad then move on into another hospital or maybe another profession, instead of bitching about it! In case you haven't noticed your so-called bitching is not getting a whole lot of sympathy from the readers here!

  • PocahontasRN

    This article is filled with BS! I'm a nurse in Baltimore. I worked through both snow storms. I volunteered to drive my SUV out with my manager and picked employees up to work. I didnt mind staying for the few days I did. I was payed for my time giving pt. care, I was fed for free, and I received extra hours for my efforts. Most will say we actually had fun and made the best out of it. I'm just GREATFUL in this economy I have a job!!! Being from a sister hospital, I would expect to be fired if I refused to work while having a ride. That's the policy.

    These lazy people give nurses a bad name. It's people like this who keep our profession a blue collar job.

    As for the change in Presidents... didn't Mr. Rider retire from UMH? Wasn't Mr. Rider asked to go to WHC to help straighten out a business that was failing? Didn't Mr. Rider then retire again from WHC? Where's the truth in this statement?
    "In June and early July, WHC replaced its president, senior vice president of human resources and its chief nursing officer."

  • Hadenough

    A historic snowstorm people...HISTORIC! We were being advised NOT to the Mayor, Governor and anyone else with common sense. The problem in my opinion is WHC had NO PLAN other than to say.."You better come to work". That is not a plan. And just because someone is idiotic enough to think a 4 wheeler makes them bullet proof doesnt mean I want to drive with them. If you've been warned by city government to stay off the road and you get into an your own vehicle...your insurance company will NOT pay. And as for the people who spent the night...some had no beds...or were given beds that were taken fresh scrubs...sleeping on NASTY hospital floors. THERE WAS NO PLAN PEOPLE!!!!

  • FedUp

    Nursing is a 24/7 job. If there is a disaster you get to work. These nurses had plenty of time to plan accordingly. A few chose not to come in because they did not want to get stuck at the hospital. Does anyone want to get stuck?? No, but it's our job. I worked at WHC through out the storm. I was compensated for time I spent living at the hospital outside of working hours. Was it the best but there are only so many beds in a hospital. You suck it up and sleep as best as you can. If you can't handle such conditions then go work at a doctor's office. I am tired of the complaining by these nurses.

  • PocahontasRN


    I totally agree with you. If you're in nursing for the paycheck and the cushy benefits, get out now. We don't need you and neither do your patients. Nursing is a commitment. It's shameful how intitled these nurses are while the rest of us work hard to keep our professional integrity.

  • angel

    some, well but not me hehe..angelJ10

  • http://Justme Brian Boyington

    I work at WHC also. I made it to work. I got the threatning message from the hospital. I take my job seriously. I work in management. Having said all of that, the hospital handled this situation poorly. Most people did try to get to work, streets weren't plowed, especially the side streets. Some people live outside of the immediate area and their areas weren't plowed at all. We were advising people to walk to main road and hopefully someone would be able to pick you up. We had people walking a couple of miles to a main road and then no one shows up to pick them up. Four wheel drives were getting stuck and not making it to the destinations they were supposed to get to. Professional drivers weren't driving those days (bus drivers, train drivers etc.)so public transportation was not available at all. People who did get to work had to contend with no place to sleep, no place to shower and if you believe this, a serious GI infection from the cafeteria that knocked people out of work for up to a week. The hospital was never understaffed. Remember, we didn't let anybody go home. That, plus the people who did make it in actually made us overstaffed. If people made a serious effort to make it to work they should NOT have been fired. They had some unreasonable expectations. I live 20 minutes away and almost didn't make it.