Nurses iron out union talks

    The California Nurses Association announced last week that
    the 10,000 registered nurses employed at University
    of California
    medical centers have
    ratified a new three-year contract, marking the end of an 11-month bargaining
    process between CNA and the university.

    The contract, which expires in September 2010, includes a
    6-percent wage increase across the board, increases of up to 8 percent at
    student health centers and additional raises for UCSD and UC Irvine nurses, who
    are the lowest-paid in the UC system.

    “Our nurses play a vital role in the delivery of excellent
    health care that UC is known for, and this contract continues the university’s
    practice of providing competitive, market-based increases for the nurses in
    this bargaining unit throughout the UC system,” Howard Pripas, UC executive
    director of labor relations, said in a statement.

    In addition to increasing wages, the contract limits the use
    of mandatory shift rotations, which force employees to switch from day to night
    shifts, often compromising their performance. The nurses also rejected a “paid
    time off” program that would combine sick leave and vacation days into one
    pool, arguing that the initiative would encourage nurses to go to work ill.

    CNA’s UC Director Beth Kean said there has been overwhelming opposition to the
    PTO program since it was first proposed, and that she is relieved that the
    university has acknowledged it.

    “[The university] finally realized that nurses did not want
    it,” she said. “That was a big victory for us.”

    Kean added that the contract’s technology restrictions — which
    prevent new technology from replacing nurses’ roles in delivering care to
    patients — signify a triumph for patient safety.

    “We don’t want some kind of computerized protocol replacing
    a nurse’s judgment,” she said.

    Nicole Savickas, human resources and labor coordinator for
    the UC Office of the President, said the university was disappointed that the
    nurses refused to implement the PTO program, especially since they rejected the
    recommendation in the neutral fact-finding panel’s report. However, she said
    that overall, she is pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.

    “Ultimately, UC believed it was important to compromise on
    this issue in order to reach agreement for our nurses,” she said. “We are
    absolutely satisfied with the agreement.”

    Kean said she is excited about the university’s willingness
    to compromise, but said its timing is interesting, considering that the Higher
    Education Employer-Employee Relations Act would have enabled CNA to begin
    organizing for a vote to strike if an agreement had not been reached this
    month. The fact-finding period ended on March 10, and the final bargaining
    session took place March 13-15.

    “The fact that UC made no movement in 11 months of
    bargaining, then dramatically changed [its] bargaining posture three days after
    CNA was legally allowed to start organizing for a strike vote is not a
    coincidence,” she said.

    The threat of strike is a grave one, she said, citing a
    similar situation in the Bay Area, where 10,000 nurses at Sutter Health
    facilities are scheduled to today conclude a 10-day strike.

    Kean said the patient safety issues addressed in the nurses’
    contract are prominent throughout the state, and said she hopes to use this success as
    leverage for medical workers battling similar initiatives such as the PTO
    program. She said CNA plans to coordinate with the American Federation of
    State, County and Municipal Employees, which has been fighting since August
    2007 to secure a contract for the university’s 11,000 patient care technical
    employees.

    “UC has a long-term plan to shift benefit costs to its
    employees and to resist any increased voice and power of the unionized staff in
    terms of benefit protections and other employee protections,” she said. “If CNA
    had not been successful in fighting off PTO, it would have been very difficult
    for the AFSCME units to resist it.”

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