A packed room of nurses and other healthcare professionals from across the Jackson system greeted management representativeswho turned up Jan. 22 to bargain the impact of the new uniform policy proposed by Chief Nursing Officer Ric Cuming, RN.
Three members of the JHS Labor Relations staff sat across the table from Local 1991 president Martha Baker, RN, and dozens of members to talk about how to fix the extremely flawed process by which the unpopular and confusing policy is being implemented across the system.
Not present was Cuming himself. Perhaps he was polishing up his Magnet standards. We don’t know. Nursing Director Karen Strauss, RN, did show up and listen to the testimony, which the members really appreciated.
“Hospitals are given Magnet awards when they actually engage the people in the trenches,” noted Martha Baker. “This is a silly thing to have a fight over. We hope you can have some effect on Ric and convince him to respect his caregivers.”
Members emphasized that they supported management’s desire to present a clean, professional appearance on the units. But they felt largely left out of a process that imposed rules set by people with little direct knowledge of conditions and preferences in the field. And many questioned why an effort to standardize uniforms was being implemented differently in various sites.
“We were not given any option or choices there,” said Donna Bent, RN, who works in the ICU at Jackson North, where nurses were told they would have to wear all white. “We’re all professionals being treated like children.”
Lisa Ward, RN, who works the telemetry floor at Jackson North, echoed her colleague’s frustrations. She described how the guidelines suggesting that blue and white would be allowed were ignored by Jackson North management, which decided to impose an all-white color scheme.
“We had no input,” she said. “I’m from Main and used to being vocal. In North, you’re afraid to talk.”
For Kathy Wood, RN, at the ACC clinic, the problem was just plain consistency.
“We received emails that we were blue and white,” she said. “I went out and bought the uniforms and three days later received an email that it’s all white now, so we’re out money for the blue tops.”
Norberto Molina, RN, in the PACU pointed out that uniform considerations in his unit need to take into account higher infection control standards.
For Winsome Witter, RN, in PTSU, the issue is that the pediatric nurses need some flexibility to wear tops with child-friendly prints.
“When I walk in with my Scooby Doo, they get distracted, don’t fight you as much,” she said. “A lot of our parents…feel it’s much better for their child.”
Cheryl Piekielek, RN, who works in the ER, was all about the white shoes. In the ER, “every single fluid you could possibly imagine ends up on our shoes,” she said. “To get a comfortable pair of leather shoes is 100 to 150 dollars. Somebody does something on your white shoes and they’re gone. Black shoes look much more professional. You can get blood, you can get urine or whatever and it will hide it.”
In the back, hospital efficiency consultant Duane Fitch looked on in amazement that a simple matter such as uniforms could have gotten to the point of an impact bargaining session.
“You know, this place has twelve days cash on hand and we’re talking about the color of the uniforms,” he noted quietly to a bystander.
We agree. The uniform issue seems like a teapot tempest in the scheme of things. But it is a daily, in-your-face symbol of whether management is really willing to walk the talk about including employees in decisions that affect them.
The session lasted about an hour and half, with Labor Relations promising to relay the concerns of the union and its members to management and get back quickly with an answer to requests to delay implementation until the various concerns had been cleared up.
Our basic asks were for a choice of two colors in the uniforms, flexibility on the shoe colors, additional money for the uniform allowance and that the implementation date of Feb. 1 be delayed.
We will keep you posted. In the meantime, although the start date for the policy is Feb. 1, there is a grace period until about April 1. So you may want to wait a bit before buying new scrubs, to see what we end up with.