Registered nurses at three Bay Area hospitals, Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, and Watsonville Community Hospital will strike on Thursday, Aug.14. They cite concerns about safe staffing levels and other patient care needs as the cause of the planned strikes.
Watsonville RNs will strike for three days; Queen of the Valley and Sutter Tracy RNs will strike for one day. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents the RNs at all three hospitals.
At Queen of the Valley, the RNs have proposed language to improve staffing to meet state minimum staffing requirements and patient need, rather than to base staffing on budget goals. The RNs are also proposing the hospital provide sufficient staffing so that RNs are able to take meal and rest breaks without leaving patients with inadequate staffing care; many RNs now are unable to take their breaks due to poor staffing.
"Nurses at Queen deserve a contract that guarantees our patients get the best care possible. Nurses have been negotiating in good faith for a contract that will help us fight for safe staffing, but now hospital management is demanding language that could gut our contract the day after we agree to it. Nurses are prepared to fight for our future and our hospital," said MaryLou Bahn, RN, and OB-GYN RN and nurse negotiator at Queen of the Valley.
The hospital is also demanding major takeaways in language that would allow management to make wholesale cuts in health benefits, pensions, and other time off with just 30 days notice.
CNA also represents St. Joseph RNs at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Petaluma Valley Hospital in Petaluma, and St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley in Southern California as well as Queen of the Valley.
Nursing standards with strong patient safety and staffing language is a particularly important goal for the Sutter Tracy RNs noting a high turnover of the nursing workforce at Sutter Tracy and the continued use of out-of-town traveler nurses.
The RNs cite the refusal of hospital negotiators to address their concerns about safe staffing language to protect patients and to support provisions to protect RNs from on the job injuries due to unsafe patient lifting policies. The RNs are also at odds with the hospital over agreement on an RN-elected professional practice committee to meet with management on patient care issues.
"We want safe staffing, adequate resources and, above all, a voice in the care we deliver," said nurse negotiator and RN activist Dotty Nygard.
"We need standards that lead to recruitment and retention of nurses, so that this community doesn't have to rely on temporary contracted nurse staffing which is a revolving door, a practice that's existed for years in some units. The community deserves better, with safe, competent and committed staff. We are sending a clear message that we are standing together and we are serious," said Nygard.
The RNs and Sutter Tracy officials have been bargaining for more than two years now, without a resolution, during which time hospital officials unilaterally implemented changes to the health plan. A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ruled that Sutter Tracy had violated federal law with that unilateral change. Sutter has appealed that decision to the NLRB in Washington.
At Watsonville Community, the RNs, who also struck in December, are continuing a protest against demands by hospital executives for sharp reductions in health coverage, and the hospital's refusal to address concerns about patient care conditions, especially safe staffing.
"We raise serious concerns about safe staffing and clinical practices but we receive no serious response. We are talking about patients' lives," said Roseann Farris, a critical care RN at Watsonville. "We need to take this action in order for the hospital to take our concerns seriously."
Nurses say relations with hospital officials have been aggravated by a hard line pushed by corporate executives at Tennessee-based Community Health Systems which now operates the former locally owned and operated hospital in Watsonville.
Federal courts and the federal National Labor Relations Board around the country have repeatedly sanctioned CHS hospitals for violations of labor law and infringements on the rights of RNs.
A central concern, say Watsonville RNs, is what they view as the hospital's stance in stifling the voice of the RNs in patient care and safe staffing issues. Hospital negotiators have refused to consider RN proposals for fair resolution of unresolved staffing, patient care, and other nursing practice issues. The hospital also rejected language to assure implementation of safe practices for lifting patients to prevent patient falls and accidents and injuries to nurses, as well as other patient care proposals by the RNs.
Photo: NNU website.