- Nurses in Southern California hospitals in Oxnard, Northridge, and Camarillo reached a tentative agreement with employer Dignity Health on Friday to avoid a strike over staffing and safety issues.
- The agreement comes just in time to avert a 10-day strike planned to start Aug. 30. The union withdrew its strike notice, which it issued on August 19.
- The nurses were seeking improvements in nurse-patient staffing ratios and workplace safety, among other things. The tentative agreement is for a new five-year contract covering about 1,300 nurses at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital, and Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
Labor disputes made healthcare headlines in 2018, with nurses demanding better staffing ratios from chains Tenet and Community Health Systems, University of California Health, Kaiser Permanente and a handful of smaller independent hospitals. In 2018, workers at Dignity Health, protested to "demand the corporation operate in the interests of patients, healthcare workers and communities."
The current skirmish between Dignity Health and the nurses at the three hospitals involved nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, a hot-button issue that has led to labor unrest in other parts of the country, too — fueling strikes, rallies and even a midterm ballot initiative in Massachusetts.
The tentative agreement between Dignity Health and the nurses at the three hospitals includes maintaining safe nurse-to-patient ratios and barring the use of "floating" nurses in certain hospital departments if they haven't been specifically trained and validated to work there.
The proposed contract also includes measures to address security problems at the hospitals; an agreement to meet with nurses and study the impact of any reduction of support (non-nursing) staff; and making sure the nurse responsible for handling incoming ambulances is not given an additional patient load.
"Our nurses were unified and ready to walk out and onto the strike line, right up until the last moment over these life-or-death issues," Gayle Batiste, president of the nurses' union, SEIU Local 121RN and a nurse at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said in a statement. Batiste also was a member of the union’s bargaining team that negotiated the tentative contract.
"We are pleased to have reached a new five-year agreement with SEIU 121RN that is fair to our nurses and our organization," Dignity Health said. Dignity Health external communications manager Chad Burns told Healthcare Dive the new contract would provide competitive wage increases during each year of the five-year contract term.
"Nurses are pleased that we’ve secured things in our contract that will guarantee their ability to give the best patient care,” Adriane Carrier, a nurse at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, said in a statement. "This Bargaining Team strongly recommends a 'yes' vote on the contract," she said.
Hal Weiss, communications director for the union, told Healthcare Dive the outcome of the vote should be known by Thursday.