Big Triumph – 2-Year Sutter War Ends as RNs OK New Pact
Press Release, 10/4/13
Big Triumph – 2-Year Sutter War Ends as RNs OK New Pact
Protecting Patient Care, Nursing Standards, Defeating Concessions
In packed membership meetings at five San Francisco Bay Area hospitals, registered nurses and techs voted overwhelmingly Wednesday and Thursday to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement, ending a two-year fight by defeating a long list of concession demands by one of the nation’s wealthiest hospital chains.
The battle – which centered over Sutter’s insistence on implementing sweeping reductions in patient care, workplace protections, and nursing standards – finally concluded after nine strikes over two years when Sutter agreed to withdraw over 200 concession demands.
The new agreements cover 3,000 RNs and several hundred respiratory, X-ray and other technicians who work at Alta Bates facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Sutter Solano in Vallejo, and Sutter Delta in Antioch. The RNs and techs are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United or its affiliate Caregivers and Hospital Employees Union.
In meetings across the region at hospitals where Sutter officials agreed to follow a pattern set earlier at Sutter hospitals in Lake, Marin, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties where agreements were reached after concessions were pulled, nurses celebrated their defense of critical patient care protections as well as maintaining nursing standards.
"After nine successful strikes, Sutter clearly got the message that nurses never give up," said Alta Bates Medical Center, Berkeley RN Hebron Viray.
“The nurses are happy that this hard fought contract is settled,” said Eden RN Kevin Sweat, RN. “We can now continue our focus on patient care without the distraction of having to fight off an attack on our standards.”
“I feel overjoyed that we, the union nurses, stood strong and fought to have a fair contract. I was happy to be able to vote ‘Yes’ today for ratification," said Sutter Delta RN Monica Jones.
Contract ratification celebrated at Alta Bates Summit meeting this week
“In an era in which corporate giants in healthcare and many other industries from coast to coast are forcing working people and their families to accept multiple reductions in workplace standards and livelihoods, the Sutter nurses have shown that through unity and a willingness to stand up and say ‘no,’, it is possible to hold the line and win,” said CNA and NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
“This achievement sends an emphatic message to nurses and other workers everywhere. Stand up for yourselves, stand up for the public interest and the public will always be with you,” DeMoro said.
"I am so relieved and proud of our new agreement. We are already geared to move forward and fight Sutter's corporate agenda,” said Alta Bates Summit, Oakland RN Jeanne Lee.
"I am amazed that our union was able to get such a stellar contract in this current economic climate. Way to go team," said Stefanie Hahn, Alta Bates, Berkeley RN.
"CHEU has fought side by side with CNA to win a respectable contract. Our members have responded with a resounding majority vote. Congratulations to all," said CHEU President Chuck Maltzahn, respiratory therapist at Alta Bates Summit, Oakland.
"We are very happy to have won a contract that not only maintains but improves our professional nursing standards," said Sutter Delta RN Amy Black.
"Our team feels a huge sense of success. We look forward to celebrating our new agreement and strengthened sense of solidarity," said Eric Koch, RN at Alta Bates, Berkeley.
Two key concessions defeated were Sutter’s insistence on eliminating paid sick leave and termination of all health coverage for nurses and techs who work less than 30 hours per week which would end health benefits entirely for hundreds of RNs, techs and their families. Both of those were removed, along with 200 more that Sutter had pushed.
Additionally, Sutter Solano agreed to withdraw final warning letters issued en masse to Solano RNs who exercised their legal rights to participate in a December, 2012 strike.
All the agreements run from ratification through December 31, 2015, with the exception of Sutter Solano which expires in October 2016. The agreements also include modest pay increases, never the main focus of the dispute, of up to 6 percent over the duration of the agreements.
Several other improvements were also achieved at various hospitals including protections of dental and vision care plans and limits on the assignment of nurses to work in areas for which they do not have clinical expertise.
Concession demands defeated at various Sutter hospitals include (partial list):
- Eliminating paid sick leave, including substituting a “short term disability” program for sick leave with delayed access and only partial payments when ill, effectively forcing nurses to work when sick, exposing already frail and vulnerable patients to further infection – GONE
- Eliminating health coverage for nurses and techs (and their families) who work less than 30 hours per week and slashing the pay in lieu of benefits for all non-benefited nurses – GONE
- Eliminating all other benefits, including sick leave, education leave, holidays, and vacations for nurses working 30 hours or less per week – GONE
- Increased out of pocket costs for some health plan options – GONE
- Eliminating positions of charge nurses who make clinical assignments for nurses, to address staffing shortages, subjecting patients to the danger of unsafe staffing, and reduced roles for other charge nurses – GONE
- Elimination of a Resource RN to assist with staffing shortages – GONE
- Eliminating retiree health plans – GONE
- Reduced pregnancy and maternity leave (and complete termination of the leave for some RNs), undermining RN families – GONE
- Reduced medical leaves of absence – GONE
- Cutting the rest time between shifts, an unsafe precedent for patients and the hospital workforce – GONE
- Reduced long term disability coverage – GONE
- Reduced vacation benefits – GONE
- Elimination of seniority rights for long term nurses in layoffs, scheduling and job bidding – GONE
- Reduced pay for RNs who work weekends, nights, holidays, and other special shifts – GONE
- Cuts in education leave for RNs to improve clinical skills – GONE
- Limits on staff nurse participation on safe staffing committees – GONE
- Elimination of safety trainings for RNs – GONE
- Preference for travel nurses in scheduling over regular staff nurses with long term service to the patients and community – GONE
- Mandatory participation, and making the RNs responsible subject to discipline, for patient “satisfaction” programs that are based on the perception of care, not actual quality of care – GONE
- Disciplinary measures against Solano RNs for participation in legally protected strike activity – GONE
- Implementation of healthcare cuts at Solano and Delta – GONE
- Implementation of reduced pay for RNs at Solano and Delta who work short hours and receive higher pay in lieu of benefits – GONE
- Forcing RNs to work overtime, exposing patients to care from fatigued nurses who are more prone to making medical errors – GONE
- Expanded, mandatory use of punitive “wellness” programs that shift more health costs to nurses with chronic or other long term health conditions with privacy invading questionnaires – GONE