OLYMPIA, Wash. — A measure meant to improve working conditions for nurses in Washington has some nurses up in arms demanding change. The bill requiring meal and rest breaks for nurses was amended on Tuesday to include an eight-hour limit on workdays.
“It was quite the shock,” said registered nurse Tracy Smith.
Smith said the typical nursing shift of three, 12-hour days is considered a perk. It allows for recovery time and flexibility for working families looking for child care and off-peak working hours.
“If this mandated proposed bill goes through a lot of my coworkers have said they would leave the profession altogether,” said Smith.
The eight-hour mandate came to the legislation as an amendment offered by Sen. Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla). Walsh said she did not expect the amendment to pass.
“Frankly, I was really trying to make a point with that amendment,” Walsh explained.
She said the nurse’s union should be able to negotiate breaks and suggested if nurses are tired, they shouldn’t be allowed to work longer than eight hours.
“I know they want (12-hour shifts), but then they come back and talk out of both sides of their mouths and tell us how tired they are,” Walsh said in her Senate floor speech for the amendment.
The amendment and bill passed minutes after Walsh’s speech.
Walsh said Democrats, who hold the majority, may have been trying to embarrass her or other Republicans for suggesting something that would upset nurses.
“I think there has been political gaming here,” said Walsh.
Walsh said she has been getting calls from nurses since Tuesday’s vote.
Smith organized a protest along with an email campaign trying to get the amendment removed from the bill.
“I think they ended up having 9,000 email responses in one night,” she said.
Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) said she is working to make sure the current bill does not get passed. She said it would be devastating to the health care industry if nurses went to an eight-hour workday.
“It’s not going to become law,” said Keiser.