UC, Nurses Skirmish at a Standstill

After six months of negotiating a proposal to increase wages
and benefits for University
of California
nurses, the
California Nurses Association and university officials agreed last week to
jointly declare an impasse and request the assistance of a state-appointed
mediator to arrange a compromise.

The university’s proposal highlights market-based salary
increases, equal health-care benefits and a new paid time-off program as the
major initiatives it would like to implement for its nurses. The CNA union that
represents the nurses must approve the changes before the university can
approve the changes.

“They make a proposal, we make a proposal, and we attempt to
meet in the middle,” said Nicole Savickas, human resources and labor
coordinator for the UC Office of the President, who has been at the UC-CNA
bargaining table during the entire process.

However, Savickas said that the approval process is
sometimes more complicated than it appears, since there are actually three
parties involved: the university, the union and over 10,000 California nurses
who are the university’s employees.

“There are a number of issues that we have not been able to
reach agreement on,” Savickas said.

CNA’s UC Director Beth Kean described Savickas’ sentiment as
an understatement.

“We are very unhappy with the UC’s final offer,” she said.
“We are miles and miles apart on nearly every issue right now.”

Kean said that the biggest item of contention is the
proposed PTO program, which would require
nurses to use their vacation days to get time off when they are sick,
since sick leave would only take effect after 24 hours of illness.

“It may sound good, but the truth is that it is a very
anti-patient program,” she said. “It would force nurses to go to work when they
are sick.”

UCSD Medical Center nurse Janice Webb said that she does not
want to even consider implementation of such a program.

“Nurses can barely afford to live in San Diego as it is, and
they really can’t afford [this program],” she said. “It actually cuts your sick
time in half.”

Kean said that the proposed program is not the only area in
which the university has pursued initiatives that fail to provide for its
employees’ best interests. She outlined major staffing problems at all
university medical facilities, including the cancelation of much-needed shifts
as well as mandatory shift rotations, which force nurses to switch from day
shifts to night shifts every month, compromising their performance.

In addition, she said that the wage disparity among
university nurses is such that the most experienced nurses at universities such
as UCSD and UC Irvine earn less money than nurses coming straight from college
at UC San Francisco — discrepancies that the university’s current proposal
fails to address.

“UC can afford to staff [and pay] properly, but they refuse
to do so,” she said.

Now that both parties have agreed to the impasse, the
California Public Employment Relations Board will determine whether a deadlock
indeed exists. If PERB confirms the impasse, it will submit the case to the
State Mediation and Conciliation Service, which will assign a neutral mediator
to assist with negotiations.

Savickas said that the mediator should begin work in the
next few weeks, and she is hopeful that the mediator will resolve what she
considers to be minimal remaining disagreements.

Kean said she is less optimistic, recalling that in 2005 and
2006, the mediator was unsuccessful in finding a compromise. She said she
believes that, as in past years, the process will reach the next step, during
which a fact-finding panel reviews each side’s complaints in more depth.

Webb agreed that the mediation process is impersonal and
disjointed, and added that nurses are frustrated with the university’s
recurring attempts to pass unpopular measures.

“The UC likes to play hardball,” she said. “But the nurses have
learned over the past few years, and we’re getting good at playing hardball
too.”

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