The California Nurses Association (CNA) has authorized a strike on behalf of the Registered Nurses (RN) employed by the University of California in the wake of a series of negotiations dating from mid-July over disagreements in the changes the UC has made in RN staffing at the five Medical Centers included in the UC system.
“We uncovered while bargaining [that there was] a systematic changing in how staffing is determined,” said Beth Kean, director of the UC division for the CNA.
Previously, Kean said, the RN scheduling had been determined by a formula considering the numerical amount of patient-care hours necessary to adequately staff each facility, relying on meticulous record-keeping of patient status that “translates into how many hours of care the patient needs.” However, Kean states that the UC’s new method is “staffing by budget” instead of patient safety.
“What they’ve basically done is pulling the rug out from under us to [provide care],” Kean said.
According to Kean, bargaining did not break down until November, when the University of California submitted their last offer to the CNA. Since then, the CNA held an “overwhelming vote to authorize” a strike at the UC medical centers.
The CNA considers the change in staffing methods illegal not just in its emphasis on budget over patient needs, but also due to the change in staffing methods without giving the CNA the opportunity to argue.
“The UC just implemented the situation instead of telling us,” Kean said.
But according to Nicole Savickas, human resources communication coordinator at the Office of the President of the University of California, the change in staffing procedures is well within the law.
“The unfair labor practices charge [from the CNA] we don’t believe has a factual basis,” Savickas said.
In an interdepartmental message, the Office of the President stated that “state law requires that California hospitals maintain adequate staffing levels. UC fully complies with the law and CNA offers no real evidence to the contrary.”
As per UC protocol, when negotiations have reached their conclusion between two sides and no agreement has been reached, both sides declare impasse and a neutral third party is involved. A three-person team is formed with a representative from the UC, a union representative and an independent agent appointed by the state, commonly called a fact-finder.
“[The fact-finder] finds a point from which the two parties may then reach a compromise,” Savickas said. The fact-finder hears both arguments and chooses the best solution.
Although Kean maintained that the most important issue regarded staffing methods, the fact-finder suggested solutions for a new contract for RNs under various categories, such as wages, medical benefits, retirement benefits, meal and break relief.
The fact-finder for the last round of negotiations released his report on Oct. 22. Since then, UC and CNA have not returned to the bargaining table, and the CNA authorized their strike.
According to Kean, the CNA always gives a 10-day notice for any strike in order for hospitals to prepare and compensate for the lost work.
“We haven’t done that yet,” Kean said. “We’ve never had a strike [and we’ve been] unionized for 25 years. We want to go back to the bargaining table … but if that’s not possible we’re willing to move to that step.”
The Office of the President has no plans as of the date of print to supplant the work potentially lost should the CNA set a strike date.
“Should the union give us notice, the individual medical centers determine what help they need,” Savickas said. “If there are any plans, it will be on a medical center by medical center basis.”
According to Kean, the UC medical centers are funded by patient insurance instead of the state budget.
“I would say that this is the tip of the iceberg,” Kean said. “They initially told nurses [the staffing changes] were because of the state budget, but obviously it’s not – just the UC playing on the nurses’ fear of the economy.”
The five UC Medical Centers are located near UC campuses at Irvine, Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. According to Kean, there are approximately 11,000 RNs in the system. The University of California Web site lists the centers as one of the largest health care providers in California and one of the two largest Medi-Cal providers in the state.