Nurses demonstrate for safer working conditions ahead of UC contract negotiations
Nurses chant and wave signs as they walk outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The rally was one of many Wednesday night calling for better working conditions, held at multiple UC medical centers across the state. (Victoria Li/Daily Bruin senior staff)
More than 30 nurses rallied outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on Wednesday night to advocate for improved working conditions ahead of impending contract negotiations.
The rally was one of several held across University of California hospitals that day, including UCLA Health’s Westwood location and the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, said Emily Carrera, a registered nurse in the labor and delivery division. The current contract between the University and the California Nurses Association – a union representing more than 17,000 nurses in the UC system – is set to expire at the end of October.
The previous collective bargaining agreement between the UC and the CNA expired around four years ago, said David Yamada, a UCLA registered nurse in the coronary care intensive care unit. Yamada, the chief nurse representative for the union, added that the contract negotiations process occurs during the summer and involves the UC Office of the President and nurses from several UC campuses.
Yamada, who is in his 13th year as a nurse at the medical center, said the last contract negotiations process took 18 months and added that he anticipates the upcoming discussion to potentially take as long.
Nurses began circling the area in front of the medical center at 6:30 p.m. waving signs that read, “Ready to fight,” and chanting slogans such as, “When patient care is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
Carrera said nurses have been experiencing burnout and distress since the start of the pandemic, making it necessary to obtain a stronger contract to address these issues. It becomes difficult to run hospital units with an insufficient number of nurses and not being able to take proper breaks, she added.
“We’re falling short of our best selves when we’re providing care for our patients because we don’t have enough resources,” she said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Yamada said the University has been violating contract provisions by assigning nurses to units without considering the needs of workers, stressing staff workloads even further.
“We’re always advocating for more staffing,” Yamada said. “The pandemic just kind of exacerbated the whole situation, many times over.”
At around 7:45 p.m., multiple nurses gave speeches, including one from Nial Frederickson. A nurse in the intensive care unit, Frederickson said he transferred to UCLA Health three years ago because California is the only state with a mandated nurse-to-patient ratio, which was implemented in 2004. Studies have found that limiting the number of patients assigned to a nurse decreases patient mortality rates, he added.
The assignment of nurses within a unit should be based on the level of care a patient needs and the severity of their condition rather than a minimum requirement across all units, he said, adding that this will ensure a balanced workload and improve patient care.
Frederickson said the onset of the pandemic led to a significant decrease in the number of nurses, with some nurses retiring or becoming travel nurses, increasing the stress placed on the remaining nurses. UCLA Health hired new nurses in 2021, a year after the pandemic’s start and a year after the union began advocating for increased hiring, he added.
This was only a temporary solution, Frederickson said, adding that UCLA Health needs to focus on both recruitment and retention of nurses through offering competitive compensation and workplace violence protections.
The university’s health system reaffirmed its dedication to public health safety and adequate staffing in a written statement, adding that any questions should be directed to UCOP, which oversees systemwide negotiations.
“UCLA Health is committed to maintaining regular dialogue with nursing staff to jointly discuss safety and other protocols, which has been an especially productive process throughout all stages of the pandemic,” the statement read.
Frederickson said he hopes these efforts can be a starting point for more productive conversations with the University.
“We hope that, through these rallies, through solidarity with our nurses and listening to what they need, we can work with UC to make the hospital a great place for nurses and for patients both,” he said.