Public-sector nurses and caregivers applaud new meal and break law

Submitted by ADonahue on November 7, 2022
Group of four nurses outside hospital hold sign "Staff up for Safe Care"

By Lucy Diavolo

National Nurse Magazine - July | Aug | Sept 2022 Issue

The California Nurses Association in September applauded California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign S.B. 1334 into state law, guaranteeing enforceable breaks for public-sector and University of California (UC) workers who provide or support direct patient care in a hospital, clinic, or public health setting. The newly signed law is a win for patient advocates who believe safe staffing is the key to high-quality patient care.

“Nurses and caregivers fought hard for this important legislation and we are proud that it has been signed into law,” said Rosa Villarroel, RN, who works in University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s endoscopy unit. “Health care workers working in the public sector deserve the same protections as private-sector ones when it comes to having enough staff to safely take our breaks. As nurses, it’s our job to care and advocate for our patients. When a nurse has a 12-hour shift without a chance to eat a meal or even rest, it leads to exhaustion that can increase the likelihood of medical errors.”
“One of the ways this new law will support safer staffing in our facilities is because there’s now a penalty for forcing workers to miss breaks,” said Kathleen Salter, RN, who works in the telemetry unit at Antelope Valley Hospital. “This new law will improve the working conditions for California’s public-sector hospital workers and the care we provide to our communities.”
S.B. 1334, authored by state Sen. Steven Bradford and sponsored by CNA, will ensure that public-sector employees who provide direct patient care or support direct patient care will be covered by Section 512 of the California Labor Code, guaranteeing meal breaks and rest periods for public-sector workers, such as nurses, at UC facilities. By bringing the law into alignment with regulations governing private-sector health care workers, the new legislation disincentivizes hospital management from abusing unsafe staffing levels and incentivizes properly staffing every unit to account for the time needed to provide meals and breaks. Ensuring safe staffing and proper meal and rest breaks in turn fosters the safest conditions for the health of nurses, health care workers, and patients.
Until this law’s passage, public-sector and UC hospitals were failing to prioritize safe staffing to account for meal and break coverage. With the passage of S.B. 1334, if public-sector and UC hospitals fail to provide meal and break coverage, they will be required to pay the employee for the missed meal or break, thereby creating an incentive to prioritize safe staffing.
“Public-sector nurses and caregivers can cheer this victory today,” said Marlon De La Barrera, an interventional radiology technologist at Palomar Health. “CNA is celebrating this win even as we continue to fight for the rights of all nurses, health care workers, and patients across California.”

Lucy Diavolo is a communications specialist at California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.