After months of discussions and feedback, he says, about 5,500 of the 8,500 staff who would be affected by the mandate voted to pick their colors in a December ballot. "We had good turnout, about 60%. Not everybody who was eligible to vote did, but a pretty large percentage did," he says. "We kept the union informed as we went through the process. We provided a lot of input opportunities from the nurses themselves. I would say we did not negotiate this with the union in any formal sense."
Nurses chose navy blue. "Nurses being by far the largest group under this program, they were able to choose the color they wanted," Kanihan says. "They are a much bigger voting block than, say, housekeepers."
Kanihan says the grievance filing will not delay the May 1 launch of the color-coded uniform requirement. "We announced the results earlier this year and a lot of nurses and other staff have already started this," he says. "We made the requisite color choices available to all of our people at a discount through a Website we set up. We're providing some level of subsidy to help employees buy their first few uniforms. Many have already done it. On May 1 we require it."
Jaci Krech, RN, administrative director of orthopedics and surgical services at Woodwind Health Campus, in Woodbury, Minn., says the 86-bed acute care hospital has used color-coded uniforms for the past five years. She believes staff at the nonunion hospital—part of the HealthEast Care System—have embraced color-coded uniforms because staff were involved in the process from the onset, and because they believe it improves patients' experiences.