Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Votes To Pursue Legal Action Against Union Representing Nurses at County-USC Medical Center
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to file a lawsuit against Service Employees International Union Local 660, which represents nurses at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, for an alleged violation of a restraining order, the Los Angeles Times reports. The vote came after several recent confrontations between hospital officials, nurses and union representatives who entered unauthorized areas of the facility, according to the Times.
Ray Fortner, Los Angeles County's interim counsel, declined to provide details about the incidents except to confirm that the county was investigating a union representative who allegedly appeared intoxicated at the hospital Monday and caused a disruption (Chong/Becerra, Los Angeles Times, 10/6).
New state regulations on nurse-to-patient ratios, which took effect Jan. 1, require hospitals to set staffing levels at the beginning of a shift and maintain it throughout the shift, including during nurses' breaks. The new rules state that nurses do not have to care for more than eight patients at a time (California Healthline, 8/11).
Union officials have been encouraging nurses to refuse patient assignments if they exceed the cap, the Times reports.
Hospital managers and nurses already were involved in a dispute because the nurses have been without contract since Sept. 30, 2003, and the county in July won a restraining order to bar sickouts by nurses protesting the lack of a contract.
Union spokesperson Mark Tarnawsky said, "The county needs to hire 1,200 more nurses," adding, "In the past few months, they've been losing more nurses than they're hiring."
Nick Builder of the SEIU Local 660 said, "There have been atrocious staffing levels for some time" at county hospitals, adding, "People are no longer willing to be patient."
John Wallace, spokesperson for the county Department of Health Services, said, "We do try to comply with nurse-to-patient ratios. We do have significant nurse vacancies, and these are really the result of the nationwide nursing shortage that is particularly acute in California."
Fortner said, "We believe there has been an escalation of activity that needs to be brought to the attention of the court." He added that the county "will be publicly filing papers in the next day or two" (Los Angeles Times, 10/6).