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Washington Hospital Center Strike

Washington Hospital Center Strike

Terri Polick | NursingLink

The nurses at Washington Hospital Center in northwest DC put their employer on notice and staged a walkout on March 4, 2011. National Nurses United, the union representing the hospital’s 1,650 registered nurses, said the one-day strike was a response to many key issues including patient safety issues, unsafe staffing conditions, and violations of federal labor laws resulting in the dismissal of nurses during the Washington DC snowstorm of 2010.

NNU officials claim that Geri Lee and 10 other nurses, who could not make it into work during last year’s epic back-to-back snowstorms that hit the DC area in February 2010, were victimized by WHC because of their outspoken support of NNU. According to union officials, hospital administration took a hard line and suspended a number of union supporters pending an investigation. Ultimately, the hospital took some of the nurses back, but Lee and eight of her coworkers lost their jobs.

Kenneth S. Zinn, Director of Strategic Campaigns for NNU, said that he didn’t believe that the timing of the hospital’s actions was a coincidence, citing that the nurses were disciplined by the hospital just as the NNU was entering into negotiations for a new contract. Zinn said that WHC chose to take disciplinary action against a few nurses who could not come into work while taking no action against 250 other nurses who missed work sometime during the storm. In response to WHC’s actions, the nursing union filed a Class Action Grievance based on their current contract, claiming that the hospital used arbitrary, unreasonable, and improper actions against bargaining unit nurses—including threats, intimidation, harassment, discipline, discharge, and mistreatment of nurses during and after the February snowstorms last year.

Jean Ross, Co-President of NNU, said that she was shocked when she heard that Geri Lee and other WHC nurses where fired when they couldn’t get into work during the snowstorm. “My very first thought was, ‘Are they [WHC] crazy?’” she said. “Nurses are at a premium, good nurses even more so. It looks to me as though it was retaliatory. You look at the nurses that were let go, especially Geri, her length of seniority, and the fact that she was active in her union. Employers let no good opportunity pass.”

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