By Sean Lee
Amid stalled negotiations with Stanford Health Care over wages and workplace conditions, the independent union representing them and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital — the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) — voted to authorize a strike on Wednesday, April 10.
The authorization vote was approved by 85 percent of the 3,700 union members, according to an announcement made on Thursday.
“The union feels that Stanford and Packard want to be known for the world-class care they provide, and so must support the nurses that are making that care possible,” CRONA President Colleen Borges told The Daily. “We’re completely open and willing to continue to negotiate in good faith, but the Executive Board decided to put this strike authorization out there so our members can give us the power to call a strike if necessary.”
Union representatives had been negotiating with the hospital since January to determine wage increases and changes in workplace safety standards, given that the previous contract period for nurses at Stanford expired on March 31. During negotiations, CRONA and Stanford Health Care reached an impasse over a proposed 4 percent wage increase that CRONA believes is necessary given increases in Bay Area living costs.
“Because the cost of living here is so high, we have a hard time attracting nurses who are able to [afford living] here,” said Borges, a pediatric oncology nurse at Packard herself. “The Bay Area’s cost of living increased by 4.5 percent this year, so we know that the hospital’s 3 percent offer is not going to keep up with cost of living.”
According to Borges, Stanford Hospital and Packard Children’s Hospital faces chronic understaffing that has led to higher rates of turnover and burnout among nurses. This is in large part due to inadequate wages, benefits and working conditions that are not on par with Stanford Health Care’s competitors like the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Kaiser. CRONA is demanding change on these counts.
“For example, we know that our retirement medical benefits are not as good as other area hospitals; nurses are not guaranteed medical benefits for life at Stanford hospitals, where we have provided care for our entire careers,” Borges said.
According to Borges, CRONA is demanding a competitive package from the hospital that includes wages, benefits and quality working conditions that are competitive with other hospitals in the area.
“Given the understaffing issues, we’ve stressed to the hospital that we need to be able to attract nurses to come and work because we cannot continue to work without the ability to bring in new nurses,” Borges added.
CRONA has also alleged that Stanford Health Care has not adequately addressed workplace safety. They demand that protections for nurses, such as the ability to request a change in assignment from a patient who has assaulted or threatened a nurse as long as the patient can be adequately cared for by someone else, are “clearly enumerated in our contracts so there isn’t confusion amongst nurses as to what workplace safety looks like,” CRONA vice president Kathy Stormberg told The Daily.
An outpatient nurse in radiology at Stanford Hospital shared stories of workplace violence with Stormberg.
“A nurse will say ‘Let me show you the scar from when I was assaulted several years ago, or let me tell you about the nurse on my unit who was assaulted last week, or let me tell you about the horrible shift I spent enduring being called a racial slur by a patient and there wasn’t anything I could do about it or I felt like there was nothing I could do,” she said.
“Everyone should feel safe when they come to work, and everyone should feel like they have resources they can turn to if they feel threatened at work or have been assaulted at work,” Stormberg added. “The things we are seeking in this contract are not extravagant. They are basic.”
In response, Stanford Health Care told The Daily that turnover rates at Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health for 2018 were 9.8 percent and 8.4 percent respectively, compared to the national average of 15.1 percent. They added that the hospitals were “able to recruit nurses quicker than both the Advisory Board’s national benchmark and Pacific region benchmark.”
“We remain optimistic that an agreement will be reached that will allow us to continue to attract and retain the high caliber of nurses, who so meaningfully contribute to our hospitals’ reputation for excellence,” Stanford Health Care’s statement said.
As a result of Wednesday’s vote, CRONA’s executive board now has the authority to call for a strike that would begin as soon as ten days after granting formal notice to the hospitals.
“We have agreed to continue meeting with the hospitals to see if we can close the gaps,” Borges said. “But we are ready and willing to strike if that’s what it will take to get what we need.”
Contact Sean Lee at seanklee ‘at’ stanford.edu.