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State nurses at Western State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, and DSHS facilities joined community members across Washington to call for a stop to a government shutdown. At rallies, marches, and press conferences, we brought our message to the community that it’s time to invest in care and support new revenue.

June 22 marked the first day that pink slips will start to be distributed by state agencies and they prepare for a government shutdown. If a budget deal is not reached by July 1, 2017 a full state government shutdown will take place.

“I want to provide the kind of care that ensures our patients can get back to the community, and I want our patients to meet their goals and health outcomes,” said Melissa Staples, an RN at Eastern State Hospital and speaker in Spokane. “But we can’t do that if our Senators won’t fund our budget. If our state wants to be a leader on improving mental health, then we need to make sure we’re investing in the right priorities so we can all thrive.”

Instead of honoring our negotiated contract with wage increases that bring us to community standards, Senate Republicans continue to hold up our contract by proposing a plan that would give us only a flat sum of $500 per year, far short of the investment we know is needed to help us keep staff in our hospitals and facilities.

We worked hard with the state to negotiate a contract that would put our patients and clients first, address a recruitment crisis in our facilities to recruit new nurses, and help us retain the most qualified staff. We’ve advocated throughout the legislative session through our lobby visits, phone calls, and emails to urge our elected leaders to fund our contract. Our work made the difference: the majority of legislators are standing with us because they know how essential our work is to care for our vulnerable patients and clients. Now we need to keep up the pressure to make sure the contract is funded by the deadline.

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“We’re doing our part with our administration to turn this hospital around, but the Senate won’t do their part to fund the state budget,” said Paula Manalo, RN at Western State Hospital.

“You can’t get something for nothing—we need revenue for all of the things that keep our communities going. Schools, transportation, healthcare. If the Senate doesn’t raise the revenue we need and pass the budget by July 1 I’m worried we won’t be able to hire new nurses and keep the ones we have. We’ll go back to like it was before. Nobody will want to work here because we’ll be short staffed and we’ll face a higher risk of assault. We already work mandatory overtime, working 16 hours at a time with patients who need us to be fully present. We need experienced nurses who are situationally aware of the dangers of this work.”

Put people before tax breaks for corporations

This legislative gridlock is the result of a few extremist Senate leaders taking control of our budget process and refusing to support the revenue we need to fund essential services.

Instead of investing in good schools for our kids and healthcare that helps everyone be well, the budget from state Senate Republicans is giving corporations tax breaks instead. Hundreds of tax giveaways for special interests and corporations are clogging our tax code—some of them have been in place for decades. Right now our tax code is so upside down we’re in last place, behind every other state in our nation and families like ours pay 7 times more than wealthy individuals in taxes.

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“We must clean up our tax code so we have the money to invest in creating the quality of life we all want, including dignity in our care,” said Murph Gagnon, an RN and APS nurse investigator at the WA Department of Social and Health Services and speaker at the Western State rally. “Workers like myself, my coworkers and the families that we care for have paid too much for too long while Senate Republicans let corporations get away without paying their fair share. That’s not right, and the implications are about to ripple across the state for patients and thousands of families.  We do our job taking care of our most vulnerable and now its time for Senate Republicans to do their job and pass a budget that allows our communities to thrive.”

State government shut down would impact our families and our patients, clients

If Senate Republicans do not agree to fund our contract by the July 1 deadline, our state government will shut down and there may be some state nurses, healthcare workers, and other employees who will be put on temporary layoff.

For frontline nurses who have already received the 27.5% increase in incremental steps in September and February, this proposed budget would result in a 27.5% pay cut from our current paychecks. Nurses who were on track to receive the 27.5% increase July 1, 2017 would not receive it under this proposal and would instead remain at their current rate, below market standard.

Without wage increases that bring us to market standard, we will continue to face a staffing crisis in our facilities. Both patients and staff are at higher risk of assault when we’re short staffed, and the backlog to move patients on or off wards, connect them to services, or investigate complaints will only increase under the Senate’s proposed plan to deny funding for our contract and close Fircrest School and wards at Western State Hospital.

June 23rd, 2017

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