Maui Health workers ratify new contract

Vote brings 8 months of negotiations to an end

Maui Health System workers voted overwhelmingly to approve a new four-year contract over the weekend, bringing eight months of negotiations and disputes over worker pay to a close, the union said.

Nurses and health care workers weighed in on the new contract over a 24-hour voting period from 9 p.m. Friday to 9 p.m. Saturday, according to the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, which represents nearly 900 workers across Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital.

“This is our first contract between management and UNAC, so we wanted to build a foundation for future contracts and emphasizing improved quality of care and safety for the community and the staff,” said Philip Velasco, a Maui Memorial nurse and co-chairman of the United Nurses and Health Care Employees of Hawaii, the union’s local chapter.

The contract is effective Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2024, according to Maui Health, which said it was “pleased” to see the contract ratified.

“Agreement was reached on several non-economic provisions that included establishing committees to support Labor Management collaboration, staffing, clinical practice and safety,” Maui Health said in a statement on Monday. “We also reached a generous agreement on many economic issues such as a wage reopener, sign-on bonus for eligible employees and additional wage adjustments.

“We appreciate the time and effort of both the bargaining committees and the many hours of negotiations to reach this new agreement.”

Negotiations between the union and Maui Health started June 15 — about two weeks before the contract was scheduled to end on June 30 — and came to a close with a tentative agreement in the early morning hours of Feb. 26 with the help of a federal mediator. The contract was extended numerous times during bargaining.

One dispute centered on wages; Maui Health had been proposing a 0 percent increase the first year, 1.25 percent the second year and 1.25 percent the third, according to the union.

In response, union members, family and friends held a vehicle parade around the hospital calling for better pay. Workers were also concerned about nurse retention, saying that the proposed contract offered incentives to new graduates but not to longtime nurses. They also wanted to improve wages for the lowest-paid employees, some of whom make less than $12 an hour, Velasco said last month.

The contract ratified by union members over the weekend includes both a raise in pay as well as increased opportunity for input by workers. Velasco said the union and Maui Health agreed upon a 2 percent, across-the-board raise for most workers during the first year and a 2 percent raise in the second. Both sides will then return to the table in July to discuss wages for the second half of the contract.

Velasco said the financial impact of the pandemic played a role in the vote, with the union recognizing that many hospitals have lost money with surgeries and other services stopped or postponed and many residents who would normally come to the hospital now out of work and without health insurance.

“We all felt that with the pandemic, financially for Maui Health System, this was what we could compromise with them,” Velasco said. “We begin renegotiations for wages in July of next year.”

The contract also will establish new committees — like the new Labor-Management Committee that will be composed of equal numbers of union members and management, or create seats for union members on existing committees — like the Clinical Practice and Health and Safety committees. A new Staffing Subcommittee will also be formed to explore methodologies for safe staffing that consider not just numbers of patients assigned to each nurse or caregiver, but also acuity — the severity of a patient’s condition.

The contract also outlines expectations and guidelines for safely floating nurses and other staff. Hospital management had linked the practice of floating — sending staff from their usual units to another — to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Maui Memorial last year. The new guidelines consider staff members’ relevant training and clinical experience in each specialized unit to ensure that floating maximizes patient safety, the union said.

“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, co-chairwoman of the union’s Hawaii Chapter.

Workers were relieved to see the drawn-out process come to an end. K. China Kapuras, an admitting clerk at Maui Memorial, said that she was “actually happy with it.”

“I don’t have a better-than-nothing attitude, but I feel better about it because it’s something,” she said. “We got something. Because I do understand, if I look at the whole big picture, yes they’re not making money like how we were, but still, we did get something out of this.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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