Stunning Rebuke to Sutter Health in East SF Bay Area, CA Issued by Federal Judge
At Issue: Sutter’s disingenuous use of Affordable Care Act as excuse to slash nurses healthcare
Oakland, CA – A federal Administrative Law Judge with the National Labor Relations Board handed the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) a resounding victory this week, finding Sutter Bay East Hospitals engaged in illegal “unfair labor practices” when it unilaterally cut paid sick leave and eliminated all paid healthcare coverage for RNs who work less than 30 hours per week, affecting hundreds of nurses and their families.
In 2011, in the course of bargaining a new contract, Sutter East Bay Regional officials invoked the Affordable Care Act (ACA), arguing that the “impact of healthcare reform” would “significantly decrease [Sutter Delta Medical Center’s] revenue.” Acknowledging “unknowns” in its revenue equation, Sutter’s management nonetheless refused to answer CNA’s request for details of its assessments and estimates, insisting that the “requested information was not relevant….” In its ruling, the NLRB found that information to be “reasonably necessary” to the bargaining process.
“We see this decision as vital in the fight against employers nationwide who are attempting to use the Affordable Care Act as a reason to reduce employees hours and avoid providing healthcare coverage,” said CNA/NNU co-president and RN Deborah Burger. “The ACA is supposed to provide more healthcare, not less.”
“For a healthcare institution to cut healthcare and sick time for its caregivers is a flawed not to mention immoral decision, “said Amy Black, a pediatric RN and member of the RN bargaining team. “The elimination of paid sick leave forces nurses to work when ill, exposing already frail and vulnerable patients to further infection. These cuts harm nurses as well as our patients and Sutter does a terrible disservice to its employees and the communities it serves.”
The judge ordered the hospital chain to “rescind its unilateral changes and... make whole employees for any losses they have suffered…plus interest.” The order (Case 20-CA-093609) affects approximately 300 registered nurses at Sutter Delta Medical Center, located in Antioch CA.
Acting upon its projections, yet refusing to elaborate on its methodology or to explain the “unknowns,” Sutter sought eight major categories of concession from Sutter Delta’s RNs. The cuts included a reduction for Sutter of its share of employee health insurance premiums, cutting sick leave and implementation of fewer hours off between individual nurse shifts, a patient safety issue.
These sweeping concessions came on top of management proposals to cut benefits and educational leave. Sutter sought to reclassify “regular part-time” work for nurses, explained the NLRB Judge in his ruling. By raising the required hours from 20 to 30 hours per week to be deemed “regular, part-time,” Sutter would eliminate fringe benefits, as company policy stipulates 30 hours to qualify. Those working fewer weekly hours are deemed “per diem” and receive no benefits.
Leave for obtaining education credits was reduced “from 5 days to only 1 day,” noted the court. This course work is necessary for nurses to maintain their state certification.
Sutter went on to unilaterally institute these changes and cutbacks.
The decision further noted that in January, 2012, Sutter’s Santa Rosa facility, in the same region, reached a contract with CNA nurses “which did not contain the concessions proposed at [Sutter Delta].”
Sutter Delta nurses are to be compensated for their losses—“made whole,” including interest, and Sutter is ordered to engage in lawful collective bargaining. Sutter has 21 days from the court’s order, dated July 23, 2013, to attest to steps to be undertaken for compliance.
CNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest organization of registered nurses in the U.S., with 185,000 members.