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WSNA nurses at St. Joe’s score major legal victory on breaks

Nurse rest and meal break lawsuit settlement includes $5 million in back pay


The following is from the Washington State Nurses Association:

TACOMA (Dec. 7, 2016) — The Washington State Nurses Association is pleased to announce that we have reached a groundbreaking settlement of our lawsuit concerning meal and rest break violations against Franciscan Health System d/b/a St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

Under the terms of the settlement, St. Joseph will pay nurses $5 million in back pay for missed meal and rest breaks. St. Joseph also will establish a “block break relief” system to ensure that nurses are afforded uninterrupted rest periods, and the hospital committed to hiring an additional 26 break relief nurses to safely care for patients while other nurses take their rest and meal breaks.


“We applaud St. Joseph’s productive engagement in these difficult settlement negotiations and their consideration and respect for the concerns of their nurses,” said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, Assistant Executive Director of Labor at WSNA. “St. Joseph Medical Center’s management has demonstrated that when a hospital works with their nurses and their union, when they engage in real negotiations aimed at finding solutions, good things happen for nurses and the patients they care for. WSNA is confident this settlement will result in better, safer patient care at St. Joe’s.”

St. Joseph agreed to establish a block break relief system in all units of the hospital no later than April 1, 2018 to ensure that nurses are afforded uninterrupted rest periods consisting of at least 15 continuous minutes during which the nurse has no work responsibilities. This resolves a long-standing problem of nurses not receiving real rest breaks because of the hospital’s former policy of counting things like eating a snack or having a short personal conversation with a co-worker as so-called “intermittent” rest breaks. Nurses who miss their uninterrupted block rest periods will be paid for those missed breaks, beginning June 1, 2017.

“St. Joseph has proved itself a true leader in recognizing that tired nurses, who have to power through a 12-hour shift without any breaks, are not able to give their best,” Himmelsbach said. “This settlement agreement represents a true commitment to quality care on the part of St. Joe’s. Faced with a choice between squeezing more profit out of the hospital and investing in patient care, St. Joe’s chose to put patients first.”

St. Joseph also committed to hiring an additional 26 break relief nurses, who will be assigned to provide relief for other nurses to take their rest and meal breaks in 15 units at the hospital, including the emergency room, medical-surgical units and critical care. WSNA and St. Joseph Medical Center agreed to future talks about the need to expand break relief nurses to other units.

“The hiring of additional break relief nurses may be the most critical provision of this settlement,” Himmelsbach said. “The primary reason nurses are unable to take their meal and rest breaks is inadequate staffing, which puts extraordinary demands on the individual nurse. The additional break relief nurses required under this settlement are a significant step towards safer staffing and, therefore, safer care for patients. Due to St. Joseph’s clear commitment to engaging with nurses respectfully to do what is right for patients, we expect that this settlement agreement will set the standard for safe nurse staffing in Washington state.”

WSNA filed the lawsuit in May 2015 because nurses at St. Joseph Medical Center, as at many other hospitals around the state, often work long hours without any opportunity to take the meal and rest breaks they are guaranteed under the law.

WSNA-logoWSNA is the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing union representation and trainings that allow nurses to reach their full professional potential and focus on caring for patients. WSNA represents more than 17,000 registered nurses across the state. For more than 100 years, WSNA has championed issues that support nurses, advance professional standards and improve the health of individuals and families in Washington.

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