Judge ruling bars action at UC medical centers

BY VINCE ECHAVARIA

Registered nurses at Marina Del Rey Hospital and hundreds of other nurses at hospitals across the state are planning to strike for one day Thursday, June 10th to protest staffing issues related to patient care.

As many as 25,000 registered nurses (RNs) working at California and Minnesota hospitals issued notices late last month for a one-day strike that would call attention primarily to nurse to patient ratio staffing concerns along with other issues, according to the California Nurses Association. The nurses who plan to walk off from their jobs are members of the National Nurses United union.

The walkout was expected to affect approximately 180 RNs at Marina Del Rey Hospital in an event scheduled from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. outside the medical facility on Lincoln Boulevard.

Union strike notices were also issued for about 10,800 nurses at University of California hospitals, including the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. Along with the 12,000 RNs who planned to strike at six hospitals in Minnesota, the demonstration was slated to become the largest nurses strike in U.S. history, according to the California Nurses Association.

But a San Francisco Superior Court judge granted a request by the Public Employment Relations Board Tuesday, June 8th for a temporary restraining order barring the nurses union from holding the one-day strike at the UC medical centers. University of California management had claimed to the state labor board that the walkout might violate the union’s contract with UC and could risk the health and safety of patients.

The judge scheduled a hearing on the issue Friday, June 18th. Union leaders met Wednesday, June 9th to decide how to proceed with the planned labor action at UC hospitals following the restraining order approval.

The temporary restraining order does not impact the Marina Del Rey Hospital, which is a private sector medical facility that is covered by federal labor law, said Andy Prediletto, a local labor representative for the union.

As a focal point of the strike, the nurses are calling for what they consider to be safe registered nurse to patient ratios at all times, including during meal and rest breaks.

“First and foremost it’s about making sure that safe nurse to patient ratios are in effect at all times, including during meals and rest breaks,” Prediletto said of the labor action. “We want to make sure that patients are receiving the same amount of care during meals and breaks as during other times.”

Under California law, hospitals must follow specific ratios regarding a minimum number of nurses for patients receiving treatment. Prediletto alleged that Marina Del Rey Hospital management has not been adhering to the specific ratios when nurses are supposed to be receiving rests and meal breaks. This has forced nurses to choose between either taking lunch or staying with their patients, causing them to sometimes work 12-hour shifts without breaks, he claims.

“We need to make sure that hospitals have adequate relief staffing to cover the nurses during breaks,” the labor representative said. “We’re hoping for the hospitals to take seriously the issues of improving staffing levels and patient care, and making them a better place for the community and the nurses who work there.”

In addition to staffing ratios and adequate break times, the union says it is seeking retirement protections for RNs. Prediletto said the contracts expired at the end of the year and negotiations have been underway since November, but the Marina hospital has not agreed to the enhanced staffing protections sought by the nurses association.

In response to the planned strike, Fred Hunter, chief executive officer of the Marina facility, said that the hospital has negotiated two collective bargaining agreements with the union in the last six years and it will continue to bargain in good faith.

“Patient care is our top priority, and we will continue to support our amazing team of doctors and nurses who are dedicated to delivering high quality patient care,” Hunter said.

Staffing ratios of RNs to patients has also been a primary concern for nurses at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, said union labor representative Farah Davari. She said the union and UC have been negotiating contracts since August, utilizing an independent mediator that made recommendations the union was willing to accept but UC did not agree.

“What we want is for UC to understand the nurses’ issues,” Davari said.

Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for human resources, called the approval of the temporary restraining order barring the strike at UC centers a “victory for our dedicated nurses” and the hospitals’ patients.

“We are pleased that this attempt by CNA union leadership to leverage public health as a negotiations tactic has been stopped,” Duckett said in a statement. “Union leadership would do better to concentrate on reaching the equitable contract that our nurses so well deserve and that will best protect patients under our care.”

He noted that under the terms of the 2009 contract, eligible RNs will receive a two-percent step increase in July, as well as an additional two-percent across-the-board salary increase in September. Disputing the union’s concerns of patient safety, Duckett said staffing ratios are regulated by the state and the university has complied with the law.

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