City Desk

Barred From the Job Until Wednesday, Striking Washington Hospital Center Nurses Take to Irving Street

With negotiations stalled, striking nurses at Washington Hospital Center today took to Irving Street NW, picketing the region's largest hospital.

Wearing red scrubs, the color of National Nurses United, several hundred protesters held signs and chanted slogans, angry over a cut in pay and what they say is dangerous understaffing.

“They [hospital officials] need to negotiate with us [for] safe patient care in the contract,” said Jill Furillo, a registered nurse and the national bargaining director for NNU. “Management comes and goes but the registered nurses are the lifeblood of this hospital.”

Furillo also had strong words for an official policy which keeps any nurse on strike from returning to work until next Wednesday.

Although nurses only planned a one-day strike, administrators at Washington Hospital Center intend to bar them from work until next Wednesday because the hospital must pay replacement nurses for a full 60 hours of work.

"It's a draconian move," Furillo said. "The hospital has decided to attack the registered nurses and lock them out of the hospital."

Furillo was supporting a group of about 20 nurses picketing inside the hospital campus. "We negotiated with them that we can have 20 people inside the grounds," she explained. The rest of the nurses were relegated to picketing an entrance outside the hospital gates.

As she marched outside the Irving Street gates, registered nurse Peggy Dinkel said she’s not just looking to keep her pay intact.

"They say it’s about the money, but it’s not about the money," Dinkel said. "It's about safety, staffing, and driving recruitment."

Dinkel also had strong words for the hospital's decision to keep striking nurses from returning to the job until Wednesday.

"I'm losing four shifts, but I wish I could lose five,” she said. "I’m ready for the sacrifices that need to be made."

Addressing the assembled crowd at noon, NNU Co-President Karen Higgins said that she was proud to stand with the Washington Hospital Center nurses.

"You people are awesome," Higgins says. "You are our heroes. Stand the line and stand it strong... we’ll be here as long as it takes to show them patients come first."

Those on the picket line held signs and wore T-shirts promoting slogans like "Nurses United Plus Fair Contracts Equals Safe Care" and "Washington Hospital Center: Put Patients Before Profits." They also compared themselves to other protests happening worldwide.

"We are Wisconsin," went one shouted slogan. "We are Egypt. We are Libya. Fighting for our rights. Fighting for our families."

Other union supporters joined the protest as well, including members of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters.

One man, leading the crowd in a chant, invoked God: "We have someone up there with us. With he or she on our side, the hospital center is toast."

Vicki Carroll, a registered nurse since 1982, said she agrees. "This whole day is reminiscent of David and Goliath," she said. "What we want is a contract that respects nurses for their experience."

"We’re fighting for a contract that will help protect us as nurses," she continued. "We want a hospital that protects senior nurses... we want a fair deal that respects our rights and helps us recruit the best talent."

Carroll said she thinks the nurses are entitled to such an arrangement. But later, Carroll decided her David and Goliath comparison didn't quite fit. "We're more like a sleeping giant," she explained. "But now we're awake. We're not going to sleep anymore."

"We deserve it," Carroll said. "It’s like L'Oréal—we’re worth it."

Photos by William F. Zeman

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  • Rick Mangus

    Both sides are being STUPID!

  • ALIG

    The real issue is how overtime, etc, is paid. The nurses want to still get a huge percentage of their pay in overtime, whereas MedStar would like to pay an hourly rate, more in line with what the other hospitals in the area pay. As is, WHC nurses are compensated better than their peers at Suburban, Inova, PG, but they still want more. If nurses wanted to make a dr's salary, shouldn't they have gone to med school?

  • http://citypaper sharyn

    what is never voiced are both sides of the argument, in a depth that states EXACTLY the issues, and not one sided like the above article. It's about money, not staffing, and if the shift differential issue was not at stake then the strike would not be. Post senior nurses salaries in comparison with other workers salaries at the hospital who are not part of the union, and ask is that fair, as their salaries, and as well as a hiring freeze are invoked to help support a hospital who is affected by the economy and health care reform. Just saying, maybe there is more to this than what gets posted

  • Doreen

    The real issue is that some of these nurses get paid megabucks on their nighttime shifts! In case they have not been paying attention, the country and the world are undergoing massive austerity and unemployment is still in the double digits. Who is foolish enough to walk out on a good paying job at a time like this??

  • WHC RN

    Clearly none of the individuals that responded above have any clue what's being negotiated. Why doesn't Kenneth Samet take a cut in his pay? He got a 1.5 million dollar bonus last year. The community backs WHC nurses because they know we are the ones responsible for safe patient care. To say "we should've gone to med school if we wanted a doctor's salary" is both ignorant and insulting. We are well educated and hard working and we are responsible for coordinating safe patient care- more so than doctors in many, many instances. Business as usual is no longer acceptable. You're nasty words posted above won't deter us from this fight.

  • Another response

    The above comment was submitted prior to completion. "Your nasty words won't deter us from this fight, and you're in for a big surprise because this is just the beginning of a larger social movement to end corporate greed and negligence."

  • Me

    What megabucks on the nighttime shift? Doctor's Hospital is paying megabucks on nighttime and weekend, and they don't have the same patient acuity WHC has. Try being a resource/charge nurse with 4-5 patients. Try working and actually sit your ass in WHC, maybe that will straighten you out.

  • Diane

    I am a RN at WHC. I have worked there for more than 30 years. We care for the sickest patients in the region. We are the destination hospital for the Washington area. I pray everyday I work that I don't miss something with my patients because I am carrying for too many sick patients. When you are trying to do more than is possible, you can only concentrate on the patients most important needs. That is not why I became a nurse. I want to be at the bedside, reassuring, teaching, supporting and comforting my patients.
    Many days we are unable to sit down, eat, drink or use the bathroom for 12 hrs. Having a break is not the norm. It is difficult to give safe care when you can not care for your own basic needs. Management does not see this as important.
    We are treated with disrespect and our service to the patients is not recognized. We are the ones at the bedside. Anyone who has ever been a patient can tell you how much the nurses impacted their care.
    My skills as an experienced RN are invaluable. Yet, the hospital is trying to force the experienced nurses out because we "cost too much". They have capped my salary and the proposed pay cuts will cost me $12,000 per year. I have a family to provide for. I pass three other hospitals on my way to work. The hospital says our salaries should be lowered to "market rate". This comparison was not done with similar inner city high acuity hospitals but with small suburban hospitals which ship their sick patients to us. There is no incentive to drive into the city to the high risk residents we serve, to be paid the same as I can make at a quiet community hospital. To the outside this may seem a confusing issue. The salaries the hospital has posted as our "average" are higher than even the most senior nurses make. This is not a result of overtime as that is rarely allowed. Rather than pay someone overtime we just go without adequate staff. This "not for profit" hospital made millions last year and is sitting on a cash reserve in the billions.
    There has been a huge RN turnover at the hospital in the last few years. Newly hired RN's do not stay. Although they have hired, WHC can not keep up with all those who are leaving. Right now my unit is staffed with at least 25% agency nurses who do not provide the same level of care as regular hospital employees. These nurses are quite expensive to hire but WHC has no choice as they can not retain RN's. I have many co-workers who planned to retire from WHC who have left and 80% of the rest are seeking other jobs including myself.
    If you look at our unsafe working conditions you will understand why. I can not be in fear that I will cause harm to a patient because I am supposed to care for more patients than is safe.

  • Me

    Unless you have worked, dedicated your life to the betterment of patient care at WHC, I'd rather you not even give an opinion. Some nurses may have done it for money, but majority went out to fight for what they believed in. Besides, have you even checked on the fat billions that WHC is sitting on? The management has pulled a lot of tactics like firing higher level nurse managers(only to offer some of the positions back) to press lower level managers to think about their own security of tenure and thus turn their sympathy away from staff nurses. Management is trying very hard to create tension in the workplace in order to bust the union so they can go about their "economic plan". If there is one thing that I personally think is commendable, that would be hiring these hot shot million dollar union buster lawyers. They are sneaky, smart, and they look like they know what they're doing (in the sickest, most pathetic way). Yeah, WHC, go ahead and kill the morale of the nurses who comprise the most essential part of your organization; after all, when billions of dollars talk, corporate America always listens with the hearing acuity of a bat on a midnight hunt.

  • Candace

    I'm sorry that so many nurses feel so animous towards the hospital. No one is holding you hostage to your job though. If you don't like it, leave and find a better fit. There are many others that would be happy to take your place.

  • agatha westerhoff

    I worked for whc for over 25 years and participated in the 2000 nurses strike.We were striking for better working conditions and more staff,we got neither.The working conditions were still bad with managers looking for ways to discipline you.But ask them if they could do the work they expected you to do.During the 2000 strike I went to work for another company as a nursing department head.I told my staff that I would not ask them to do anything I would not do myself.I have been a nurse for 40 years and am now retired.If I would go into a hospital my recovery would be dependent upon my nurse,so let me have a 40 year experience nurse rather than a first year bsn nurse because my life would depend on it.Yes these nurses
    deserve what they are fighting for and if whc does not change their attitude they will loose the best nurses and God help the patients that have to go there.

  • rntravler

    I'm an RN with over 25 years experience that worked at WHC this past summer. I'm from the south and I would never bring my family member to WHC because I have observed how under staffed these RN's are. The community needs to get behind these RN's because your life depends on it. Rn's are the front line of defense, they save your life, they are at your bedside. If you should have a respiratory or Cardiac arrest in the hospital, I can promise you it will be an RN that starts CPR to save your life. This hospital has a high turn over rate, I would not accept a job at WHC that was offered to me because the rate of hourly pay was way to low to be able to live in the DC area. Rn's have a high rate of job injuries, (back issues)because the american public has just gotten fat, sicker and are not taking care of their medical problems. The hospital has taken away our ancillary help and added more duties. Don't be a hater because you did not go to school to be an RN Support them!!!!

  • Hospital Center RN

    The main issues we are fighting for is INCREASED STAFFING.

    Experienced RN's are not accepting positions at Washington Hospital Center. New graduates with no experience are being hired but a new nurse is not a replacement for an RN with 20 years of experience. Senior nurses are needed to mentor the new grads as they develop their clinical skills. The hospital's current contract offer will encourage more experienced people to leave. We care for a very high acuity population and without seasoned experienced RN's to learn from even the most enthusiastic and eager new nurses will become frustrated and burn out. You can not safely run a hospital with a novice nursing staff and it is sad to see this trend already starting...

  • RN2

    Candace, you are not really sorry for these nurses. Your comment is both insulting and insensitive. For you to say "if you don't like it, leave" just goes to show your ignorance on the issues these dedicated nurses are fighting for.

  • The Real Deal

    Rick, ALIG, Doreen, and others
    Some are criticizing RN's for walking away in an economy like this. We must stand up for what we believe in-- WHC is NOT safe & we are taking a stand for it. Most everyday there are cases of unsafe staffing and innocent people (your loved ones) being hurt because of it. Imagine your mother,father, brother, sister or loved one severely ill in the hospital bed-- unable to be seen by the nurse because she has 5 other patients to tend to & staffing won't provide the unit with another RN. The patients at WHC are the sickest in the region- and need quality care. If I were you I would be SUPPORTING your nurses at WHC, because chances are if you are in need of acute care (car accident, fire, heart attack, stroke) your butt is going to want to be at WHC and WE will be the ones literally saving your lives--that is--IF we have time to see you.

  • Thin Lizzy WHC RN

    Sounds like the majority of people see right through NNU's pitiful charade. Glad to see common sense prevailed and the majority of WHC nurses did the right thing and crossed the line.

  • PDiddy

    The key issue is: UNDERSTAFFING AFFECTS QUALITY OF PATIENT CARE. We are rated on our PATIENT SATISFACTION by every patient.

  • PDiddy

    CONTINUED: EVERY PATIENT DESERVES A NURSE THAT HAS THE TIME TO NOT ONLY DO THE THINGS THAT GENERATE A CHARGE FOR THE PATIENTS ACCOUNT (Medications that are given, treatments that are done, or tests completed.) THE NURSE SHOULD HAVE THE TIME FOR THINGS THAT DO NOT GENERATE A CHARGE TO THEIR ACCOUNT, BUT PROVIDE RESPITE, HEALING, AND RECOVERY. Sometimes that is just helping them to the bathroom, adjusting their position in the bed, or discussing with them the physiology of their illness, how to manage their illness, and complications that can be prevented.

  • WHC RN

    Why does WHC target only nurses for the salary cut?If recession is affecting this hospital so badly let everyone from top to bottom contribute towards that.HEY WE ARE NOT ASKING FOR ANY PAYHIKE BUT TO CONTINUE THE SAME RATE LIKE ANY OTHER EMPLOYEE OF THE HOSPITAL CONTINUING TO GET.
    About staffing,other area hospitals ICU patients are in our hospital IMCU and general unit, which everyone knows.In the ICU when they take care of 2 patients same acuity we take care of 5 patients here. For example WHC is getting paid for 5 patients with one RN where as other hospitals only 2 patients with one RN. Most of the time our patients are at risk due to this.
    Do not compare the pay of an overtime person with regular pay, compare apple to apple.The RN who works 60 hrs/wk will make higher annual income than the coworkers who does 40hrs/wk.

  • Meagen

    Thin Lizzy, you know that you're lying. The majority of the nurses were on the streets and protesting. I know for a fact that several units had a no-show. ER looked like "peace prevailed" for the first time since time immemorial. And I saw how panicky the nursing heads were; it was almost funny. I pity the strike nurse who experienced a beat down, with some of them claiming they are on the verge of regret for coming down to DC. I don't know where you based your facts, but I should know because I was in the hospital the whole of Friday. I support these nurses because what they're fighting for do make sense.

  • Thin Lizzy WHC RN

    Meagen, YOU are the liar! If you were in the hospital "the whole of Friday", than you DON'T support the nurses outside like you claim. Kudos to you for crossing the line!

  • RN T-Rex

    I can not believe that people think the strike is only about money! I am so dissapointed in the fact that people do not keep up with current events. Union busting is going on nationally and we MUST take a stand. That is one of the main reasons I decided to strike as a WHC Nurse!

  • Steve Hendersen

    If the nurses are so worried about the care their patients receive, I have to ask why are they out marching around instead of inside caring for those very patients!

    This nurses union has it's priorities way out of whack. If they were serious about a new contract for their nurses they would spend more time at the table negotiating instead of jumping at every chance to be in front of a tv camera. This is not a reality show, it's people's lives at stake!

  • Thin Lizzy WHC RN

    Right on, Steve! The majority of nurses on my unit crossed the picket line instead of being hypocrites and abandoning our patients.

  • Andy Weiss

    At some point the little guys have to get together and take a stand. From what I understand, they have been at the table for about a year (with out a contract) trying to keep their pay and advocating for better patient care. Do you really think that hospital administrators would care more about the patient than the ones that are in direct contact with patient, the nurses? I work in construction, and I can see that rich are still rich, and the majority on the bottom are expected to be thankful for every slap in the face they get....that's bs...I am with the nurses. I can't believe this has turned into a country where teachers and nurses can be portrayed as the bad guys. Do we not remember who screwed us in the first place? And who should pay?

  • CatRN

    I am a WHC RN. This is all about money. Union reps (and RNs heavily involved in union work) were extremely forceful and blunt to try to get people to strike, and when asked point-blank what the point of the strike was, I was told it was about the salary differential change. Sorry, but I'm just happy to have a job in this economy when so many people that I know have lost theirs.

    Friends on other units in WHC told me that their ENTIRE shift crossed the picket line to work. Don't let the union fool you. They had to fly people in from other parts of the country to make it look like they had a big showing of RNs from WHC come to picket. I've been around WHC for a while, and didn't recognize many of the nurses on the picket lines (because they don't even WORK at the hospital, ha). People at the hospital are getting sick of this union, and I think that want them out, hence why so many crossed over. Being so forceful and only toying with people's emotions instead of presenting facts isn't working out in their favor.

  • Andy Weiss

    My guess is that you and others posting on the site aren't nurses at hospital center like you say that you are. Or perhaps you are nurses that are part of the management staff, or maybe just hospital PR people. It sounds like disinformation to me. I agree that money is a part of it, but they're not asking for more money they're asking to keep the night differential that they have in place already. Compensation for working the midnight shift holidays and weekends. The nurses or more reliable than the US postal service, having to report for work during last year's blizzards. There was a story in a paper about a nurse who could not make it into work during last year's winter storm, and the hospital would not provider transportation as which would be normal, so they fired her. Thanks to their union and the ability to file grievances she was able to get her job back. The ability to file grievances is something that the nurses are fighting to keep.

  • Thin Lizzy WHC RN

    Andy, If anyone is providing misinformation, it's the union. And if your source for information is the local newspaper, than you are surely lacking the truth of the situation. As for the "snow nurse", I bet you didn't know that the union (meaning me and everyone who is being forced to pay union dues) paid her entire salary for the period of time that she was rightfully canned. I have personally spoken to a nurse that traveled over 200 miles through that same blizzard just to get to work. So I have little sympathy for someone who made an insignificant effort to fulfill her duty as a responsible nurse.

  • Andy Weiss

    Lizzy, can you tell me how many nurses out of how many crossed the line? Back to the "snow nurse", not everyone has a four wheel drive. I think that I could trust a nurse that has enough common sense not to risk her life, driving in those conditions. Had the hospital provided a ride, I am sure she would have gone to work.

  • Andy Weiss
  • Andy Weiss
  • Thin Lizzy WHC RN

    It's about personal responsibility, Andy. It's not like the blizzard was a surprise storm. There were numerous nurses who were unable to report for duty for a variety of reasons who were NOT fired during the blizzard. Nor were they reprimanded for insubordination like the snow nurse. Do you know what "efforts" miss snow nurse made to get to work? What time did she actually call to secure a ride? Maybe next time she'll plan ahead. Who am I kidding. She'll do what she wants and count on the union to save her.

  • Andy Weiss

    How many nurses out of how many total nurses crossed the line? I looked into it, and found that the union, nor you, payed the "snow nurse's" salary while she was wrongfully terminated. Check your facts Lizzy. Stop posting lies! Let's see if you can tell us the truth about how many nurses crossed the line.

  • Andy Weiss

    Lizzy, why do you work at WHC verses any other hospital?