UC nurses’ association ratifies labor agreement

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
A woman walks out of the Tang Center Wednesday. The Tang Center is among the institutions that will be affected by the contract.

Nurses throughout the University of California voted last Thursday to ratify a multiyear labor agreement with the university — the first in nearly a decade.

The 26-month pact is the first multiyear agreement in years with the California Nurses Association — which represents nearly 11,000 nurses systemwide, including over 30 nurses at UC Berkeley’s Tang Center — and includes pay increases that will average at least 11 percent over the next two years. Nurses and UC officials have before been at odds over salaries and retirement benefits.

“This contract maintains competitive market wages and benefits for our nurses, recognizing both the difficult financial environment we are in and the unique nursing markets in which we operate,” said Gayle Saxton, UC director of labor relations, in a statement from the university.

The contract affects the thousands of nurses represented at the university’s five medical centers — UCLA, UC San Francisco, UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Davis — as well as nurses at student health centers at other UC campuses, such as the Tang Center.

Previous attempts to come to an agreement have faltered and resulted in strike threats in 2005 and 2010, both of which were blocked by court injunctions. In June 2010, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled that striking at the five medical centers, as the union had planned, would have violated state labor laws because negotiations on a new contract were still underway.

Following the injunction, officials from the association said they would begin bargaining another contract with the university.

Negotiations for the approved contract began in August 2010, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on May 18. On May 26, the CNA informed the university that union members approved the tentative agreement.

“UCLA nurses enthusiastically confirmed the multi-year contract,” Manny Punzalan, a registered nurse at UCLA, said in a statement. “That will ensure the recruitment and retention of qualified nurses to continue the critical work of bedside nursing for our high-acuity patients at UC medical centers.”

Ultimately, the agreement was reached through “a very unified and firm” stance from the association, according to CNA spokesperson Liz Jacobs.

“It’s always a question of waiting the other side out,” Jacobs said. “I think with enough of the other hospitals settling, it ends up being not worthwhile for the university to keep going through negotiations for the same thing — that’s expensive.”

The contract states that the UC will continue its salary-based approach to health insurance whereby lower-paid employees pay lower monthly premiums than other employees and define meal and rest breaks for nurses working throughout the day.

“Each unit shall have a mechanism for meal and break relief on each shift which shall be implemented consistent with professional nursing judgment and patient care needs, in order to ensure that required staffing is maintained during meal and rest periods,” the contract states.

Association officials have said staffing ratios were not enforced during break times, which caused nurses to often deny themselves meal breaks in order to care for patients because there is no one to take their place while away.

UCSF nurses “were pleased with the significant protections requiring break relief coverage maintaining safe staffing at all times for our patients … and they solidly affirmed the agreement,” said Erin Carrera, a UCSF nurse, in a statement.

According to Jacobs, provisions in the contract that define meal and rest breaks are of great importance to the association, as she said many nurses have said such breaks would improve their performance in the workplace.

“The meal and break rest issue is very a important patient safety issue,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to be on your toes. If you cant do that, if you’re working in an environment where you’re constantly running … it’s physically as well as emotionally challenging because you’re watching, keeping on top of a lot of different patients whose status is constantly changing.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.