Sharp HealthCare Nurses Vote on Contract Offer, Strike Authorization
Nurses at San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare on Thursday voted on whether to accept management's "final contract offer" or give the hospital chain a 10-day notice of a walk out after the two parties failed to reach a consensus over wages and state nurse staffing rules, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. If approved, as many as 2,800 nurses represented by the Sharp Professional Nurses Network -- a local affiliate of the United Nurses Associations of California -- at all five Sharp campuses could take part in the strike. Sharp has extended a contract proposal that would give nurses a 19% across-the-board wage increase over three years, or a separate proposal that would provide seniority-based wage increases, according to Sharp spokesperson Diane Gage. Union officials say that the proposals would provide lower wages than those offered by other hospital chains in the San Diego area. For example, Sharp nurses with five years of experience would make nearly $5 less per hour in October than a similarly trained nurse employed by Kaiser Permanente, according to union documents. In addition, union President Chris McGovern said that the seniority-based wage increases proposed by Sharp are unsatisfactory because they are capped at a certain figure, the Union-Tribune reports.
Union officials recently filed a complaint with the Department of Health Services alleging that Sharp has not been in compliance with state nurse-to-patient staffing ratios (Berestein, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/28). The new regulations, which took effect Jan. 1, state that nurses do not have to care for more than eight patients at a time. The regulations call for one nurse per five patients in medical-surgical units by 2005, as well as one nurse per four patients in specialty care and telemetry units and one nurse per three patients in step-down units by 2008. In addition, the law states that licensed vocational nurses can comprise no more than 50% of the licensed nurses assigned to patient care and that only registered nurses can care for critical trauma patients. The rules also require at least one registered nurse to serve as a triage nurse in emergency departments (California Healthline, 5/27). Some nurses say that they have been "complaining for the past several months of being overworked and unable to take breaks and lunches," the Union-Tribune reports. Sharp administrators say they are in compliance with the staffing requirements.
Ky Lewis, senior vice president of human resources for Sharp, said he does not believe a strike will occur, adding, "If we get to a strike situation, we have plans in place to provide quality care to our patients," including non-stiking nurses and hiring temporary nurses. Gage and Lewis said the union's desire to require all nurses to apply for union membership, which currently is optional, is contributing to negotiation difficulties. "We really believe that the real issue is union security, and they want all new nurses to pay dues," Gage said. McGovern said that the issue would not be cause to end negotiations, which could continue even if the union votes for a walk out. According to the Union-Tribune, most nurses after voting said they had voted against the contract and for the strike authorization. A final vote count was expected late Thursday night (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.