University of California Health System Nurses Tentatively Agree to Contract, Cancel Strike
About 8,000 University of California health system nurses on Friday canceled a one-day strike planned for tomorrow after they reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the terms of the new contract, which the nurses will vote on June 3, the health system agreed to eliminate its merit-based salary system and pay nurses based on seniority. Nurses' salaries would increase an average of 19% to 25% over the next three years, and the health system would retain the right to give nurses lump-sum rewards for "good performance" (Garrison, Los Angeles Times, 5/25). In addition, the system would pay longtime nurses "equity raises" to increase their salaries to the level of newly hired nurses, who have been offered higher wages as a recruiting tool (Fong, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/25). The new contract would limit mandatory overtime to emergencies and situations where managers feel it is required to "maintain safe patient care" (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 5/25). Health system officials and nurses will establish committees to discuss minimum nurse-to-patient ratios that have been mandated by Gov. Gray Davis (D) but have yet to go into effect. The California Nurses Association, which represents the UC nurses, agreed that licensed vocational nurses, as opposed to registered nurses only, can be counted toward those ratios (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/25). The CNA also agreed to drop a charge of unfair labor practices against the health system, which in turn said it would withdraw its request for a restraining order against the union to stop its members from striking (Los Angeles Times, 5/25).
The contract resulting from the UC nurses' dispute with the health system is one among many factors that "illustrate how all the forces in the health care economy, and some in government, are converging to drive costs ever higher," Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub writes in today's paper. The CNA will now try to duplicate the terms of the UC nurses' contract at other hospitals and hospital chains, Weintraub writes, setting a "new gold standard" for nurses' pay and hours. Weintraub concludes that the rising cost of health care is a "conspiracy of natural causes and man-made complications" and is "going to be a devil of a problem to solve" (Weintraub, Sacramento Bee, 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.