SEATTLE — Nurses at Seattle Children’s hospital approved a contract agreement Thursday that increases pay for entry-level nurses by nearly 50%.
Nurses ratified the agreement by "a strong majority," according to the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA).
“This is the first time I’ve felt a sense of relief in months,” Edna Cortez, co-chair of the union and a Seattle Children’s registered nurse, said in a statement Monday when the union came to a tentative agreement with Seattle Children's.
Under the agreement, 1,700 nurses receive a pay increase of $10 per hour over the next 12 months.
By August 2024, the base rate for newly graduated nurses will be $47.60 per hour, which is the highest in the city, according to WSNA. This translates to a pay increase of 49.7% for a nurse at the bottom of the wage scale, the association said.
Elizabeth Ford, distinguished practitioner in residence at the Seattle University School of Law, said the inclusion of measures that raise the pay floor even for incoming workers is a trend to watch.
"The idea that both the union and the hospital are saying, let's invest in the future," Ford said. "Which is a risky thing and a brave thing to do, because those nurses are not all among the nurses that will vote on ratifications."
WSNA said in a statement Monday that the hourly increase was “unprecedented” at Seattle Children’s, calling the deal a “historic contract.”
The three-year contract also changes how nurses earn wage increases to make it more equitable for part-time employees. Under the agreement, nurses will advance on the wage scale based on years of experience versus hours worked. Nurses who are below where they should be on the wage scale based on hours worked will move up to the appropriate step under the contract agreement.
"Our biggest hope is that this will hold onto the nurses that are at Children's," WSNA labor counsel Pamela Chandran said. "Children's hospital is unique in that it is a specialty hospital that really requires a very specialized practice for nurses. But this inevitably will have an impact on the rest of the hospitals in Seattle and King County and Pierce County, as other hospitals see they need to come up."
Seattle Children's spokesperson Jeanine Takala said the hospital's focus remains on providing "high-quality, safe and equitable care to the largest pediatric region in the country so that our patients can live their healthiest and most fulfilling lives.”
"We appreciate everyone working so hard to achieve this outcome," Takala wrote. "The new contract includes measures that will enhance safety, retention and recruitment, and recognizes the dedication, professionalism and quality of the 1,700-person nursing team at Seattle Children’s as well as the extraordinary circumstances they have been working under throughout the pandemic."
The union reached an agreement with Seattle Children’s on Aug. 16 after 19 hours of talks. However, the agreement came after five months of discussion and an informational picket on Aug. 9 where nurses made their concerns public.
Previously, WSNA said nurses were concerned about a high vacancy rate, a need for pay raises and the impact of rising inflation.
WSNA said most, if not all, of the hospitals it represents are facing staffing shortages. A recent report from the Washington State Hospital Association raising alarms about hospital budgets declared a 200% rise in temporary labor costs statewide.
Ford says while only the hospital can comment on reasoning for the agreement, it's likely that they considered the costs of retaining current nurses as opposed to using more temporary labor, specifically travel nurses.
"The bargaining unit is saying, we understand we are making a decision to invest in the future, and that is a hopeful trend that I don't think would happen without a union," Ford said.
Both Ford and Chandran say they believe this agreement could pave the way for pushes across the region to significantly increase nurse pay.