Tuesday, August 20

Nurses’ union strike over staffing ratios barred after Supreme Court injunction

Despite Supreme Court injunction against strike, negotiations over staffing ratios continue

Perhaps more than any other job in the medical profession, nursing is often synonymous with patient care.

“Every nurse gets into this job for the patients,” said Shannon McCarville, a clinical nurse at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “You build that relationship with your patients and you really want to be there for them.”

However, the priority of patient care could conflict with the nurses’ interests as negotiations between the California Nurses Association and the University of California move forward after a preliminary injunction barred the union from striking at UC medical centers until after Sept. 30.

The association is the UC nurses’ union that represents approximately 10,800 UC nurses, according to the UC Office of the President.

After the association announced a one-day strike for June 10, asking staff to not go to work and not call in sick, the California Public Employment Relations Board sought legal intervention against the strike, questioning its legality. The San Francisco Supreme Court first issued a temporary restraining order June 8 and then granted the preliminary injunction against the union in a June 18 hearing.

The core issue of current negotiations is staffing ratios. According to the union, internal staffing documentation from UC Davis last year showed that one-third of the shifts were short one or more nurses in each unit than what was required by UC Davis’ own standards.

UC medical centers serve some of the sickest patients in the country; thus, it is important that nurses have a safe staff-to-patient ratio, said Elizabeth Jacobs, a union spokeswoman.

“People come to the UC from all over the world seeking care, so we have to make sure that nurses have a safe staffing ratio and aren’t being assigned too many patients to provide quality care for,” Jacobs added.

The union also seeks to ensure that nurses receive adequate meal and rest breaks during their 12 1/2 hour shifts, Jacobs said.

“We had to honor the injunction, but our contract does expire at the end of September,” Jacobs said. “We have the right to strike, and we will strike if these patient care issues aren’t resolved by then.”

The injunction upholds the board’s allegation that a strike violates state labor laws and also jeopardizes public health. The current contract between the UC and the union, which contains a “no strikes” provision, remains in effect until it expires Sept. 30.

“We believe that (the San Francisco Supreme Court’s decision) was the correct decision, and we are looking forward to sitting down at the bargaining table to negotiate the contract and hopefully reach a settlement,” said Gayle Saxton, UC director of labor relations.

By issuing a strike threat before negotiations began, the union put undue pressure on the university, forcing the issues at the bargaining table rather than allowing for the debate to occur as part of the collective bargaining process, Saxton said.

“With the injunction, both parties can sit down and talk in a full and comprehensive way about the issues without illegal fear of having to face a strike threat during the negotiations,” she said.

“The intent of the law is to have peaceful talks.”

For many nurses, the decision to strike is a personal one as each must weigh the effect of the strike on their patients, whose quality of care would suffer should a strike occur, McCarville said.

“Anyone who goes into nursing wants to provide really good patient care to people who are sick, and you don’t want to leave them in a position where they don’t get good care, which makes the decision to strike really difficult,” she said.

McCarville added that many of her coworkers are passionate about the issues and support the union’s choice to call for a strike. However, though many were upset that the strike was barred, many were also relieved that patient care would not be interrupted, she said.

“In the collective bargaining process, we have a lot of power when we join together,” McCarville said. “This way, we know that we can provide the care we want to give, but that at the bargaining table, the union is working for us and pushing for our issues.”

University and union officials are scheduled to sit down for their first bargaining session July 12.

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