Nurses, UC Settle Contract Battle

    After four years of often bitter disagreement regarding labor practices, the University of California and the California Nurses Association reached a tentative agreement last week on the three remaining issues on the bargaining table.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    Beginning in 2007, UC nurses such as Thornton Hospital RNs Jennifer Alisangco, left, and Martha Esser will receive wage increases and compensation for missed breaks.

    Although an independent mediator conducted three fact-finding sessions over the summer in an attempt to restart stalled talks, only one major issue — retirement benefits — had been resolved.

    Tension between both parties continued through September, prompting CNA’s universitywide protest against the impasse on Sept. 28 due to discontent with the university’s position during negotiations and grievances within UC medical facilities. The protests were staged at four UC campuses, including UCSD’s Hillcrest Medical Center.

    Shortly afterward, the university outlined a new settlement, which will finalize packages for nurse wages, health benefits and rest periods.

    CNA partially attributes the settlement to the recent protest and is content with the terms of the resolution, according to CNA’s director for the UC division, Beth Kean.

    “We feel that the successful rally had a positive impact on our bargaining, resulting in an improved contract with [the university],” Kean said. “We are satisfied with the current offer.”

    The university also expressed satisfaction with the agreement, which better recognizes the role of the more than 8,500 UC-registered nurses.

    “Our nurses play a vital role in the delivery of excellent health care … and they deserve a good contract that both reflects and rewards the quality of their work,” UC Executive Director for Labor Relations Howard Pripas stated in a university press release.

    According to the new agreement, UC nurse salaries will increase 5 to 9 percent in response to CNA’s argument that wages are not competitive compared to neighboring hospitals. In 2005, UC nurses received a 13.5-percent wage increase; however, UC nurses still lagged significantly behind the local market, according to Kean.The university statistics were biased, including the lowest-paid areas to increase competitiveness, Kean said.

    The contract also states that nurses will continue to be part of the UC health care program, receiving the same benefits offered to all other UC employees. In addition, compensation will be given to UC nurses for missed breaks, a provision that nurses are especially enthusiastic about.

    “[Nurses] work 12-hour shifts, and patients are very ill and require a lot of attention,” Kean said. “Patients deserve a well-rested, alert nurse to provide them with the care they deserve.”

    Clashes between the university and CNA began in 2002, when CNA disputed university labor practices. This year’s “reopener” negotiations began in April, but stalled on four major issues. Unable to negotiate a conclusion, both sides agreed to declare an impasse in which the Public Employment Relations Board appointed an independent mediator to intervene.

    In June, the university accused CNA of “unfair labor practices,” claiming that CNA was uncompromising and used “bad-faith negotiating tactics.” This charge will also be dropped as a result of the new agreement.

    The settlement is still subject to ratification by CNA. If ratified, the terms of the agreement will be in effect starting Jan. 1, 2007, continuing through the remainder of the contract period, which expires June 30, 2007. Further negotiations to formulate a new comprehensive contract between the two parties are slated for April 2007.

    Readers can contact Dennis Tran at [email protected].

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