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University hospitals, nurses continue contract dispute

An ongoing contract dispute between University hospitals and 2,700 nurses looks set to continue after nurses last week rejected a new contract agreement negotiated by the hospitals and union leaders earlier this month.

Negotiations between the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), the Stanford Hospital and Clinics (SHC) and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) started in January. Gregory Lim, a federal mediator, was brought in at the beginning of April to facilitate further discussions between CRONA representatives and the hospitals.

The proposed agreement included retroactive wage increases, a more lenient attendance policy and a quicker turnaround time in correcting payroll errors, among other adjustments.

Though CRONA’s negotiations team supported the proposed contract, only 46 percent of the nurses voted in favor of the agreement on May 23, with the majority of members either voting against the contract or abstaining. Nurses either voted in-person at the Dermody Center or had another CRONA member submit a proxy ballot for them.

Several nurses criticized the voting process on CRONA’s Facebook page, arguing that not voting should not count as a “no” vote. Other nurses complained that there was not enough time to review the contract before voting.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I think there needs to be another vote,” commented Kristen Rhinehart, who works at the Stanford Medical Center. “Literally 3 days between bringing it to us and voting, misses a lot of people who work 12s, on vacation, etc. I vote for a re-vote.”

As a result of the agreement’s rejection, CRONA leaders will meet to discuss the union’s plan of action going forward, which could involve a strike. On May 7, 97 percent of CRONA members voted to authorize a strike if the outcome of the negotiations continued to be unfavorable.

CRONA nurses voted to authorize a strike in 2011 and 2010. The last time they held a strike, however, was in June 2000, when the nurses were absent for 55 days. The hospitals were forced to hire 500 replacement nurses and transfer over 20 seriously ill children to other hospitals.

In a press release issued on May 10, CRONA reminded the hospitals of the negative consequences of a nurses’ strike, referencing a 2011 incident at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in which the replacement of a nurse on strike resulted in a patient’s death.

The statement also cited a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University that revealed that nurses’ strikes increase in-hospital mortality by 19.4 percent.

“Should the Nurses have to strike, the public should be very concerned about the impact to the patients’ care,” said Lorie Johnson, president of CRONA, in the press release. “Given the high acuities of our patients, the replacements Nurses will simply not be up to the standard of care of CRONA Nurses.”

However, in a joint statement released by SHC and LPCH, hospital officials expressed confidence that future negotiations would be successful.

“We are deeply disappointed to report that on Thursday, May 23, 2013, an insufficient number of our Hospitals’ CRONA-represented Nurses voted to ratify the tentative agreement signed and endorsed by their union on May 18, 2013,” the statement read. “The Hospitals remain committed to the core elements of the May 18, 2013, tentative agreement and are prepared to go back to the table to bargain to completion.”

Stanford has a long history of contract disputes with nurses represented by CRONA. Last April, after more than a year of negotiations, CRONA members voted to approve a new contract with the hospitals.

Some of the most notable additions to the contract included a retroactive four percent pay increase, a two to four percent planned wage increase for 2012 and 2013 and a new program that allowed nurses with 20 years or more of service to achieve a higher nurse classification.

This contract expired on March 31, though it has since been extended to accommodate the time needed for negotiations.

Gregory Lim, representatives from CRONA and officials at SHC and LPCH declined to comment.

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