Just over two months after registered nurses from Emanuel Medical Center staged a strike in search of a fair contract, the California Nurses Association announced that a new master contract agreement has been overwhelmingly approved.
On Sept. 20, around 200 EMC nurses gathered outside of the hospital for a one-day strike, calling on management to invest in nursing staff in order to make sure patients in the area receive the best treatment. The EMC RNs were one small piece of a statewide strike that included 2,000 CNA members, and the protest also saw pickets at Tenet Healthcare hospitals throughout the region, like Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and the San Ramon Regional Medical Center. Four Tenet facilities in Arizona and Florida held the first hospital RN strikes in their states’ histories as well in September.
During the strike, EMC nurse Erika Peterson said the event’s main focus was patient safety.
“We want to ensure our patients get optimal care, and in order to do that we have to have adequate staffing, rest breaks, meal breaks and decrease mandatory on-call,” Peterson said in September.
Over 150,000 people who hold active RN licenses in California do not work as nurses, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some are either retired or unemployed, others are making the conscious choice not to work in the field.
There were several problems RNs wanted to see fixed in order to encourage more people to either become nurses or to utilize their previously-earned licenses, said CAN. For example, Tenet was forced to pay millions of dollars in penalty pay from 2016-2018 due to nurses missing their meal breaks, and the organization also showed an increased reliance on “on-call” nurses during that time.
The new contract was ratified by 4,000 RNs at eight Tenet hospitals across California, including EMC, who are “very happy” with the outcome, according to a statement released by National Nurses United.
“We are very proud of what we’ve achieved with this new contract. It is a testament to what registered nurses can accomplish collectively when we stand together as committed patient advocates,” RN Ginny Gary said. “This new agreement is a win for the nurses and our patients, for our families and for the communities we serve across the state.”
The new pact contains a number of provisions that will enhance the recruitment and retention of RNs and addresses issues raised by nurses during the strike. The agreement assures that nurses will receive at least eight-hour rest periods between shifts, as well as adequate rest and meal breaks. It also stipulates that “standby/on-call” scheduling is intended to cover unexpected and emergent patient care needs — not as a substitute for regular scheduling.
“As nurses we are dedicated to providing optimal care for our patients and we fought hard for a contract that supports that goal,” said RN Heather Baker. “This agreement will strengthen our hospitals’ ability to recruit and retain staff and make our hospitals great places for our patients to get well.”
Other highlights of the new contract include:
Hours of work, overtime and scheduling: The employer must include break relief in the staffing plan for each unit to assure that RNs receive adequate rest and meal breaks, and that appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios are maintained. The employer must post “on-call” schedules 13 days in advance and may not change them without consent of the affected RN.
Health and safety: RNs and Professional Practice Committee (PPC) members will participate in a review of unit-specific workplace violence prevention plans to assure robust RN input in the implementation of CNA-sponsored, state-mandated violence prevention standards for health care facilities.
Economic gains to retain experienced nurses: Average wage increases of 13.5 percent in the first year and a half, wage scale increases of 3 percent each year, step increases for eligible RNs, and increases in standby/on-call pay.
Healthcare: All health plans maintained.