University of California Health System Seeks Replacement Nurses in Preparation for Planned Strike
In preparation for a one-day strike planned for May 29 by University of California health system nurses, a temporary nursing agency has offered to pay replacement nurses three times more than the average pay of some UC nurses, the Los Angeles Times reports. San Francisco-based Healthcare, Consulting & Staffing Services has offered to pay UC replacement nurses $1,000 for a 12-hour shift in addition to $600 in travel expenses and the promise of "deluxe accommodations" (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 5/21). UC nurses announced the strike, which could include as many as 8,000 nurses, to protest "stalled negotiations" over a new contract, which expired April 30. The UC nurses are asking for a seniority-based, rather than merit-based, pay system and a 10% annual raise. In addition, the nurses are seeking a contract that prohibits mandatory overtime and immediately implements minimum nurse-to-patient ratios (California Healthline, 5/16).
The California Nurses Association, which represents the UC nurses, has filed a complaint with the attorney general's office, alleging that the health system has "engaged in strike-breaking and unfair labor practices" in efforts to recruit temporary nurses (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 5/18). Joe Lindsay, the CNA's chief negotiator, said, "The university should be figuring out how to use its available funds to make a decent offer to its nurses, not spend the money on folks to replace those nurses in event of a strike." However, UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz said, "As a responsible health care provider, we are obligated to take steps to protect our patients, including making precautionary arrangements for temporary staff for the day of the strike." The UC health system, which includes hospitals in Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica and affiliated student health centers, plans to close trauma care services, reschedule elective surgeries and transfer patients to other locations, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 5/21).
The issue of merit pay has "long rallied workers to walk off the job," and UC nurses remain "determined to abolish" the merit-based salary system, the Sacramento Bee reports. Although hospital administrators have said that merit pay helps to "recruit and retain top-notch nurses," CNA officials argue that the 20-year-old system can "foster favoritism and fail to reward" nurses with more experience and seniority. The CNA is seeking a "uniform salary step system," the Bee reports. Lindsay said, "UC hospitals are in danger of falling behind the times and losing nurses to other hospitals if we can't do away with a system where new, inexperienced nurses can earn nearly as much as people who have worked in the system for years." According to CNA officials, a shift to a seniority-based salary system at UC would "bring the union one step closer to ending merit pay at other health systems" (Sacramento Bee, 5/18).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.