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Bargaining Update

Washington State Nurses Association – Tacoma General Hospital


MultiCare is currently negotiating with the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) for a new contract. WSNA represents about 700 nurses at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital. MultiCare is committed to collaborating with the union to develop a contract that offers competitive wages and benefits and supports our employees as they take care of the patients and families we serve.

We want to keep our community and caregivers informed during this process. This site will provide timely updates on the activities associated with those negotiations. If you are a member of the media, please call our Media Relations office at 253-403-1716.

Interview with MultiCare President and CEO Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson shares his thoughts about being CEO of MultiCare, why he chose a career in health care and what motivates him as a leader. He also offers his opinion and insight about current WSNA negotiations.


The prior contract between WSNA was set to expire on December 31, 2015. WSNA and MultiCare agreed to extend the contract through the end of February 2016. The contract is now expired. The parties have been meeting approximately twice per month for the past six months. Both bargaining teams have exchanged written proposals and counterproposals. There have been a number of tentative agreements on individual items of a non-economic nature.

Overview of MultiCare Approach to Bargaining

MultiCare Tacoma General’s Bargaining Interests with WSNA

At the very start of the process, MultiCare shared its high level interests with WSNA. They are as follows:

  • Achieving a contract that is consistent with our budgetary expectations
  • Maintaining wage parity with CHI Franciscan St. Joseph Medical Center
  • Continuing Gainsharing eligibility for Tacoma General nurses
  • Allowing a holistic approach to the negotiation of our health plan
  • Retaining flexibility in the provision of rest breaks
  • Strengthening the commitment made by new residents
  • Achieving parity amongst all MHS defined benefit plan participants
  • Minimizing inadvertent triggering of Rest Between Shift premiums

Bargaining Process

MultiCare respects the bargaining process and WSNA’s role as the union which represents nurses at Tacoma General Hospital. MultiCare believes it is important at all times throughout the bargaining process to provide factual, robust and transparent information to all interested parties to allow them to make their own informed decisions as to what they feel is fair and reasonable. MultiCare is committed to maintain high levels of professionalism throughout the bargaining process and as such will not attempt to disparage or shame WSNA’s proposals or actions. 


Regardless of the status of negotiations, we know our employees will continue to provide highest quality of services to our community. MultiCare is hopeful that the bargaining process will be resolved as soon as possible. We are committed to the process of negotiating a fair and reasonable contract for our valued nurses at Tacoma General Hospital.

If you are a member of the media and have any questions about the information contained here, please contact our Media Relations office at 253-403-1716.

Environmental Scans on Wages, Premiums and Benefits

Prior to the start of any contract negotiations, MultiCare scans the relevant marketplace to compare wages, premiums and benefits. Although this information is reviewed more often than the start of each contract negotiations, there is a heightened sense of awareness to these matters as we enter into bargaining. When considered alongside a variety of other internal and external factors, the environmental data we find in the marketplace can inform our proposals.

Linked below are two documents that compare and contrast the wages and contractual premiums offered by Tacoma General’s major competitors for nurses. The data demonstrates that the wages and premiums offered at Tacoma General are market competitive.

Premium & Differential Comparison
Wage Rate Comparison

Summary of Initial Proposals

The WSNA and MultiCare negotiating teams met for the first time on December 21, 2015 to review and discuss proposals as well as the overall bargaining process. The WSNA negotiating team presented their proposals in the form of a full amended contract. Their proposal document has been attached below. It is 53 pages long and contains more than 80 proposed changes to the contract. The parties reached a few non-economic tentative agreements that day including an agreement to extend the contract for two months to allow for more negotiation sessions.

The teams met again on January 18, 2016 and MultiCare presented its initial proposal document, which contained fewer than 10 proposed changes to the contract. The team also presented to WSNA its list of overall interests. Those two documents are linked below. Also attached is an initial cost comparison highlighting the costs that would be incurred under WSNA’s proposals and MultiCare’s proposals.

An Unusual Complication Concerning Rest Breaks

An added complication to this round of contractual negotiations is an arbitrator’s ruling received in late December 2015 that invalidated the method most nursing departments at Tacoma General utilize to manage and provide rest breaks. That system is referred to as the “break buddy” system. The break buddy system works like this: Each nurse partners up with a colleague in their department at the beginning of their shift for the purpose of overseeing each other’s patients during the other nurse’s 15-minute rest break period (each nurse gets one rest break for every four hours of work).

The break buddy system has been used at Tacoma General for as far back as anyone can remember. It is the most common method of rest break relief in the country and is legal under both Washington state and federal law. There is nothing inherently wrong with the break buddy system, contrary to the arbitrator’s reasoning and ruling.

The MultiCare leadership team does not agree with the arbitrator’s ruling and has filed a court case to overturn it. In addition to that challenge, the MultiCare negotiating team made a proposal in these contract negotiations that would specifically include contract language allowing the continued usage of break buddies for rest break relief.

Bargaining Updates

The updates below provide the most current information related to bargaining: recaps of bargaining sessions, proposals and various communications specific to bargaining.

10/3/16 — Letter to Tacoma General Nurses

This email was sent to all Tacoma General RNs who are part of the WSNA bargaining unit. It provides a recent update on negotiations and outlines our open proposals.

Our negotiations with the Washington State Nurses Association have been ongoing now for 10 months. We felt it was important to provide you a status update. Our intention is to provide both transparency into the process and factual information specific to MHS proposals.

Our most recent negotiating sessions were held on September 14 and 16. A federal mediator participated in those sessions and in doing so met separately with both sides to understand their proposals and perspectives. The mediator will continue to participate in the negotiation process until we reach an agreement. Unfortunately, we remain far apart on many issues. WSNA has more than 80 open proposals on the table to change the contract. In contrast, MultiCare has proposed very few changes.

Why is the number of proposals a big deal? Such a large number of proposals add significant complexity to the negotiations process. It becomes very difficult to determine which proposals are really important to the union and which are not. Meaning, which proposals does the union feel are critical to include in a new contract and which were proposed because they would be nice to have but are not essential. In that regard, WSNA has told us straight up that they know they will not get everything they have asked for, and yet in the same breath they have maintained all of these open proposals on the table. MHS has only made proposals which are very important to us and we have been very direct in informing WSNA why these proposals are important to us.

Here are MultiCare’s proposals:

  • Article 5.12 — Clinical Services. MHS has proposed including the Cardio-Vascular Short Stay unit in the same clinical service as the CVICU/CCU. MHS has proposed no other major changes to the line-up of clinical services.
  • Article 8.5 — Rest Breaks. MHS has proposed language which specifically allows a unit to have discretion to use whatever rest break relief method, practice, or plan that will work best for them and their operations. MHS’s proposal includes specific contract language allowing the use of the break buddy system.
  • Article 9.1 — Wages. MHS’s most recent proposal is 2% for each year of a new 3 year contract. This represents a total contractual increase of 6% over three years. Nurses also receive a step increase every year which average another 2-3% depending on which step they are at on the wage scale. Based on our proposals, the majority of nurses in the bargaining unit would see their pay rise by greater than 12% over 3 years.
  • Appendix B — 12 Hour Shift & Rest Between Shifts. MHS has proposed reducing the amount of hours of rest (between 12 hour shifts) from the current amount of 8 hours downwards to 7 hours. Right now, if a 12-hour nurse picks up a few extra hours (say from 7:30p-11:30p) and is also regularly scheduled to work the next day, they will automatically trigger RBS overtime pay for the entirety of their hour the next day. That means a full 12 hours of overtime on their next shift. This proposal does not apply to 8-hour shift nurses.
  • Appendix C — Residency Agreement. MHS has proposed increasing the residency repayment amount we ask of residents. We have not increased these amounts in over a decade and feel these increases are justified given the rather large expense associated with residencies. This amount would only apply to residents who quit on their own volition without fulfilling the year-long commitment they made at the outset of the residency. MHS has proposed increasing the amount of the residency payback from the current amount of $2,000 to $3,000 (for Med/Surg, ICU/PCU, ED, & FBC residencies) and from the current amount of $4,000 to $5,000 (for OR and NICU residencies).
  • Appendix E — Incentive Pay. MHS has proposed adding a double-time pay incentive program to the contract. We do not currently have contract language governing this.
  • Appendix F — TG Specific Float Pool. MHS has proposed contract language creating an internal float pool system very similar to that which has been included in the Good Samaritan WSNA contract for almost a decade now. The TGH float pool would include a few different tiers and additional pay premiums that are based on the number of areas a float pool nurse is competent to float to.
  • Scrubs. MHS has made a proposal regarding uniformed scrubs for the Pulse Institute.
  • Ratification Bonus. MHS has proposed a $2000 ratification bonus.
  • Gainsharing. MHS has proposed a full retroactive payment of any Gainsharing payment not yet paid to eligible nurses. This would include a $1150 payment for 2015 Gainsharing, $450 for Pulse Institute 2016 Q1 and Q2 Gainsharing, and $225 for TGH 2016 Q2 Gainsharing.
  • MHS Benefits. In July 2016, MHS provided to WSNA the details of our benefits proposals. As is always the case, if there are changes to negotiate regarding our benefits, it is entirely normal to begin those discussions in July or August to allow for time for negotiations. The overlap of our benefits proposal with our contract negotiations at TGH is a natural consequence of these prolonged negotiations. Our initial proposal included a monthly premium increase of $45 for all health plans as well as some language which changes our obligations to negotiate health plan changes in the future. We are scheduled to meet with WSNA on October 4 and are willing to listen to their thoughts and/or consider any counter proposals they have to offer.

In closing, I wish to state that our goal in providing you this update is transparency. We hope that increasing transparency will promote an understanding of exactly what we have proposed and why we have proposed it. We believe our proposals are reasonable. We are committed to continuing in the negotiations process and look forward to returning to the bargaining table.

If you have specific questions about our proposals, or any other communication or posting you have seen by either MHS or WSNA, please reach out and ask us to clarify.

9/17/16 — General Update from September Sessions

On September 14 and 16, the bargaining teams from WSNA and MultiCare came back together after a long hiatus. We were joined at the bargaining table by a federal mediator. She will participate in the bargaining process until we reach a resolution. WSNA and Management had some joint discussion but mostly met separately with the Federal Mediator to bring her up to speed. The sides did meet jointly on the record but made no progress.

Many nurses have asked “What is holding up the process?”

We will be exploring that topic in future communications. One of the main issues holding us up is that WSNA has over active 80 proposals on the table. Almost all of those 80 proposals were made over 9 months ago. In contrast, Management has made less than 10. Why are there still so many WSNA proposals out there? In prior sessions WSNA told us that they do not expect to get everything they asked for, yet they are keeping all of their proposals on the table without withdrawing any.

MHS Management has only proposed what is essential for a new contract. Our proposals are very clear and we have spent a great deal of time explaining why we have made them. Each of them are very important to us and we have explained that to the union very clearly. Despite this, we remain open to continuing the negotiations process and continuing the discussions around our proposals.

8/15/16 — Why Is WSNA Stalling?

Over the past several months, Management has offered numerous dates to continue with WSNA contract negotiations. The union has shown no urgency in returning to the table and has in fact declined multiple dates that management has offered to meet. MHS does not understand why WSNA is not returning to the table. They have voiced concerns at the bargaining table and proposed more than 80 changes to the contract, but have not bothered to agree to further dates to continue negotiations.

Following our most recent bargaining session (held on 7/7/16), the union refused our suggestion to meet on 7/20/16 and then on very short notice even cancelled a session that had been booked on 8/4/16. They also tried to cancel the federal mediator who has been scheduled to attend our next session on 9/14/16. That means WSNA negotiations have been on hold because of the union for almost a month and a half now. We have heard many nurses complain that they want to reach a deal and want to move forward with this process.

We’re almost getting the feeling that WSNA doesn’t even want to meet. If you want your union to get back to the table and reach a deal, tell them that. Have a voice and tell them you want them to go back to the negotiation table and negotiate. Tell them to stop avoiding the conversation. Your representative’s contact information can be found on the WSNA website.

7/28/16 — Negotiation Session Unilaterally Cancelled by WSNA

On July 27, WSNA sent the management negotiation team an email cancelling the upcoming 8/4/16 bargaining session. WSNA explained to MultiCare that it felt it was essential that their Director of Labor Relations be in attendance for the next negotiation session, which had been set for 8/4/16. However, since she was unavailable on that date, WSNA cancelled the session with less than a week’s notice. MultiCare and WSNA had that date set well in advance of when they decided it was essential to have more people start coming to negotiations. WSNA’s last-minute cancellation is disappointing.

In the same communication, WSNA’s chief negotiator went on to explain that although the parties had unanimously agreed just a few weeks prior, the Union now did not wish to involve a mediator in the 9/14/16 session, preferring instead to try to make progress without a mediator’s assistance. MultiCare disagrees with this change and would prefer to involve a federal mediator. The negotiating teams have met many times now without progress and MultiCare feels strongly that it is time to involve a mediator to assist in the process.

MultiCare encourages any nurse who wants their bargaining team to return to negotiations to contact their union representative directly to voice their opinion.

Our next negotiation sessions are scheduled for 9/14/16 and 9/16/16.

7/8/16 — General Update

The WSNA and Management bargaining teams met on June 28 and July 7. During both sessions the teams discussed ongoing concerns regarding staffing levels, day to day assignments, the commitments asked of residents and Management’s bargaining priorities.

Later in the day during the June 28 session, the discussion became very emotional as some members of both teams expressed their frustrations about a few different topics. Although there was a high level of emotion in the room, everyone who voiced their opinion did so with intent to inform and advocate no matter if they were WSNA or Management.

What seems clear is that we all have some things to work on together, that we all care about those things deeply and that we are not in agreement as to the best way to address those issues. At the end of our July 7 session the parties agreed that it is time to involve a Federal Mediator.

Status of Proposals

No major movement or agreements were achieved during our most recent two sessions. As we have already explained in prior posts, WSNA has proposed over 80 different changes to the contract. They have since held to those proposals and have not made any significant movement away from them. Management has made only just a few proposals and only made those because they are of vital importance. This juxtaposition presents a significant challenge to the general bargaining process.

In our most recent session WSNA acknowledged that they “do not expect to get everything they proposed.” We are unsure as to what WSNA meant by stating this. It is our hope that the Union has not made proposals with the intent withdrawing them later — all in the hopes of gaining something in return for withdrawing one of their 80+ proposed changes. The Management team has not made any proposals which were meant to be discarded or given up as part of some compromise.

Information Requests

Over the past six months WSNA has requested a large amount of information related to a wide variety of topics. Sometimes this information is voluminous and takes lots of time to produce. For instance, WSNA has requested that Management produce any and all policies or procedures which are relevant to Tacoma General RNs. That is literally many thousands of policy documents related to everything from IV tubing to parking lots. Also, given the large number of information requests that have been made it has become confusing even to WSNA as to what specific information has been requested and/or produced already. The Management bargaining team is trying its best to produce the information that has been requested and has asked WSNA to clarify what if any items requested remain outstanding. We have as of yet not yet heard back.

Unfair Labor Practices

In a recent post WSNA stated that it has filed charges against Tacoma General. WSNA is referring to is an “Unfair Labor Practice” or “ULP.” This is a formal legal charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board that can be made by either a Union or an employer that alleges the opposing party has in some way violated some facet of labor law. MultiCare believes that it at no time has violated any standard or law as alleged by WSNA. MultiCare cannot elaborate or comment further as to the propriety of these ULPs in deference to the legal process they represent. That said, we wanted all RNs at Tacoma General to know and understand that these legal charges have been filed by their Union against MultiCare. WSNA has filed the following ULPs:

  • Alleged inappropriate Birth Center floating
  • Alleged failure to produce requested information
  • Alleged breach in duty to bargain as related to patient transports
  • Alleged illegal surveillance of picketing activity
  • Alleged illegal withholding of wages (Gainsharing bonus)
  • Alleged illegal removal of union representative from hospital units

Next Date

The negotiating teams are scheduled to meet again August 4. We anticipate that a Federal Mediator will attend the session as well.

6/13/16 — Wages

Linked below is a letter mailed to the homes of all Tacoma General nurses from Bill Greenheck, Vice President of HR. The letter outlines MultiCare’s wage proposal and provides three examples as to how it has a real impact on three different nurses at different places on the wage scale. It also explains how our proposals compare to the wage rates WSNA recently agreed to at St. Joseph Medical Center.

Before WSNA agreed to the new St. Joseph contract, the wages for nurses there lagged behind those at Tacoma General by approximately 1 percent. We say “approximately” because the two wages scales are not 100 percent identical from step to step from top to bottom. There are small differences on this step or that step. More or less though, the scales are very similar. WSNA and St. Joseph agreed to a 3 percent overall wage increase in year one of their new contract. This means that current Tacoma General wages are now approximately 2 percent behind those at St. Joseph. Our current offer of 2 percent would bring the wage scales once again into parity. Tacoma General has always tried to maintain wage parity with St. Joseph because it has traditionally been Tacoma General’s main competitor for labor.

WSNA agreed to wage increases at St. Joseph of 2.5 percent in year two and 2.5 percent in year three. Our current offer on the table to WSNA is 2 percent in year two and 2 percent in year three.

WSNA’s current offer at Tacoma General is to increase wages in each year of the contract by 4.75 percent.

Negotiation Update Part 2 — Wages

5/17/16 — Staffing

Over the course of several months, the negotiating teams have spent a significant amount of time discussing the issue of staffing. MultiCare’s negotiating team felt as though it was important for the bargaining unit to hear directly from their Chief Operating Officer Julia Truman regarding what efforts are being made to plan for and ensure safe staffing throughout Tacoma General.

As Julia’s letter explains, sometimes from day-to-day staffing can be very unpredictable. The manager, the nurses, the charge nurse and the scheduler can do everything right and have the perfect amount of staff scheduled to work but still somehow end up one or two nurses short on short notice. We all know this can be the result of many different factors, and the attached letter sent to all Tacoma General nurses explains why this may be the case. The letter also explains the many things MultiCare is doing to address staffing concerns.

No hospital has perfect staffing and Tacoma General is no exception in this regard. Every day we are doing our best to address the issues and concerns before us. If any staff member has concerns regarding their unit’s staffing levels, or wishes to better understand how their unit is staffed, please contact any member of your chain of command up to and including Julia Truman to schedule some time.

With all sincerity, we truly welcome everyone’s engagement on this subject.

Negotiation Update Part 1 — Staffing

4/27/16 — Letter to Tacoma General Nurses

Linked below is a letter that was mailed to the homes of all Tacoma General nurses. It outlines some new economic proposals MultiCare had made to the WSNA negotiations team in their session on April 25, 2016. More specifically, MultiCare’s proposal included the continuation of the Gainsharing program for all Tacoma General nurses as well as a ratification bonus of $2,000. These amounts are in addition to MultiCare’s amended wage rate increase proposal of 2 percent for each year of the contract. A copy of our proposal as made to the WSNA bargaining team is also linked below.

Bill Robertson’s Letter to Tacoma General Nurses
MultiCare Proposal to WSNA

4/16/16 — WSNA Ads

In the past few days WSNA began airing very negative television ads about Tacoma General Hospital. The ads allege (without directly stating as much) that Tacoma General’s operating margin is inappropriate and has been achieved at the expense of high quality patient care.

Contrary to WSNA’s belief, it is possible to provide high quality patient care and also achieve sound financial performance. WSNA’s ad implies a mutual exclusivity that does not exist. Furthermore, it would appear based on the numbers cited in the commercial that WSNA is basing its assertions on publicly available financial information from 2014 — not the present. The basis for WSNA’s claim regarding executive compensation is unclear as the commercial provides no data source or citation.

On April 16, 2016, MultiCare President and CEO Bill Robertson sent a message to all MultiCare employees responding to WSNA’s ads. Many employees were not aware that Tacoma General and WSNA were engaged in contractual negotiations and/or why the ads were being aired.

Bill Robertson’s Message to All MultiCare Employees

4/8/16 — Gainsharing Update from Julia Truman

Many nurses have been asking for updates regarding Gainsharing. Tacoma General’s Chief Operating Officer provided a letter to all RN staff regarding the status of their Gainsharing award. A copy of her message was also shared with WSNA as a professional courtesy.


It is very important to me that our nursing team receives communication about things that are important. This message is addresses to each of our TG RNs so that you have the information you need to understand what is occurring with gainsharing payouts. I feel specific communication to TG RNs could have been better and communication will improve, starting now.

Today's earnings statements will have gainsharing for the 2015 plan year. The Tacoma General union contract expired on December 31, 2015. The contact stated that TG RNs were eligible for gainsharing in plan years 2012, 2013 and 2014. The expired contract does not include giansharing for the 2015 plan year. The hospital has made a proposal for the new contract with WSNA that provides for gainsharing plan years 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Key points:

  1. The current contract with WSNA provided gainsharing for plan years 2012, 2013 and 2014 only.
  2. The hold on gainshare awards when there is not a contract in place has been an established practice since 2002.
  3. The hospital's proposal for a new three-year contract for 2016-2018 has a provision that specifically references gainsharing for plan years 2015, 2016 and 2017.
  4. We hope to reach an agreement with WSNA as soon as possible.
  5. The next bargaining date is April 25.
  6. What can you as a nurse in the bargaining unit do? Be informed on the issues. Tell others what is important to you in a contract and what isn't important to you.

Julia Truman

3/18/16 — Proposals

The negotiating teams met twice in February and also twice in March. Over the course of those sessions, both sides changed some of their initial proposals and/or their counter proposals. In addition, the negotiating teams engaged in lengthy discussions about just a few of MultiCare’s proposals and/or WSNA’s general concerns. Some major topics discussed during these sessions included hospital staffing, clinical services, residency agreements, MultiCare’s proposals to create a Tacoma General specific float pool, and MultiCare’s proposed specific incentive plan. Although the discussions allowed both sides to explain themselves and also to ask questions, very little progress was made in terms of actually reaching any agreements. The contract officially expired at the end of February.

Attached here are MultiCare’s proposals for a formal double time incentive plan and also for the creation of a float pool specific to Tacoma General. The double time incentive pay plan was previously included in the Tacoma General contract and the contractual proposal for a tiered float pool was based off WSNA’s contract at Good Samaritan.

Incentive Plan
Tiered Float Pool

3/3/16 — Rest Break Decision

In the months that have passed since both the start of bargaining, as well as Arbitrator Hammond’s decision regarding rest breaks, many staff have expressed confusion about his decision and how it might impact their department. In response, the Frequently Asked Questions document linked below was shared widely throughout the hospital. It explains the decision, MultiCare’s position on the issue and many other perspectives associated with the issue.

Frequently Asked Questions: Rest Break Arbitration Decision

3/3/16 — Coverage in The News Tribune

In early March, The News Tribune ran opposing op-ed pieces highlighting both WSNA and Tacoma General’s positions regarding the rest break case as well as negotiations. Read MultiCare’s response.