After more than a year of intense negotiations and five picketing strikes, a contract has been ratified between the California Nurses Association and Sutter Health Inc. for Mills-Peninsula Hospital. It was reached this past Sept. 25.
Between the two labor unions, California Nurses Association and National Nurses United there are over 270,000 members.
Speaking on behalf of the nurses unions, Joanne Jung talked with this reporter on assignment for the Peninsula Progress about the difficult contract negotiation and ratification with Sutter Health for Mills-Peninsula Hospital.In the initial press release CNA and National Nurses United said that there were many "contract take-away's." Media reps for both Sutter Health and the nurses would not provide details on exactly what those were. Yet after repeated requests for more specific details Jung did say that there were at least three dozen stipulations in the contract preparations that were not acceptable.
"The contract take-away's" that were of great concern to us were those that would have impacted our nurses as well as patients. "Any time there is a lowering of standards, this lowers the level of quality of care that patients receive," she said.
Jung noted that the contract take-away's were very complicated to enumerate in detail, among the most important was the nurses ability to participate in staffing committees.
"Every hospital by California State Law, has committees and those involving staff and the selection and scheduling of staff for various units and work shifts are vital," said Jung. "Nurses play a very important role in these committees. To have administrators undermine this process and undermine their work is placing patient care in jeopardy," she said.
Spokesperson for Sutter Mills-Peninsula Margie O'Clair would not clarify. Yet in the Sutter Health prepared press statement she sent to the Peninsula Progress, the nurses will receive a two percent wage increase immediately and then another two percent wage increase by Sept of 2013. The four percent overall will not include any bonus or be carried out retroactively from 2011.
In conversation by phone, Jung noted that while the affordable health care legislation is a step forward that the nurses union applauds, the response from Sutter Health is to increase nurses health-care premiums with Sutter by 25 percent. "This is a hardship on our nurses, who work on shifts from eight to 12 hours." "It increases there premiums by hundreds of dollars," said Jung.
In the statement issued by Sutter the cost for participation in the health insurance benefit would "move from a zero-cost health plan to a $48.00 cost for RNs only, per each pay period in 2014." O'Clair would not respond for further clarification. And, other reports in the mediaonly stated official press release info.
The other issue of concern for the nurses, according to Jung, during the 15 month bargaining talks was Sutter's wanting to eliminate or greatly reduce accumulated sick leave pay. "They wanted to place a cap on this of about 66 percent." Jung explained that to do that is to discredit all the earned sick pay time a nurse has acquired. Again, no details were provided by Sutter, only that "extended sick leave would be retained but capped at 700 hours."
Regardless of whether or not the time out for sick leave is short or extended, Jung, said, nurses should get their full salary while on sick leave. "We saw this as punitive and fought this. "It is unacceptable," she said. No one knows the duration of their sick leave, if they are out sick," she said. Jung noted that it is important that all nurses regardless of their work shifts (eight hours or 12) be able to have sick leave so they can return to work healthy and ready to work, rather than returning to work not fully well because of fears of loss of income. This again puts patient care at risk.
"Mills-Peninsula Hospital has the highest skilled and most experienced nurses in the area," said Jung. No matter what is being negotiated, each contract is separate, some having many issues. "Hospital officials, administrators always take the side of things from the view point of what is economically disadvantageous for them," said Jung.
Yet it is the nursing staff that must stand up to many of these types of proposals and decisions and they do so on behalf of the patients, not simply for themselves. "Nurses are always fighting for their patients, it is not just about us," she said. "Most often what will impact us, impacts all patients and the quality of care they receive," she said. Jung noted that established studies have shown that "fewer nurses result in higher mortality rates and decline in quality care."
O'Clair did not respond for further clarifications to explain the prepared statement by Sutter Health. The statement only listed "modify the order of cancellations when in an overstaffed situation." Whether that refers to what Jung was speaking about with regards to staffing committees, O'Clair would not say. CEO for Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Bob Merwin in a prepared statement thanked the nurses who voted to ratify the new contract. "I look forward to building on this collaboration to be more affordable for our community," he said.
While the victory the nurses have garnered is important, Jung noted that typically contracts last about three years. "this contract will be in effect until June of 2014, that is less than two years," she said.