Page One

One-day nurse’s strike averted

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Tuesday July 16, 2002

Alta Bates nurses are set to
vote on contract Wednesday


Alta Bates Summit Medical Center reached a tentative contract agreement with the California Nurses Association late Friday night, averting a planned one-day strike Wednesday. 

The three-year contract includes a 21.5 percent raise over the life of the contract, health benefits for early retirees and a guaranteed pension, according to the union. 

The hospital, which employs 1,500 nurses, did not agree to new nurse-to-patient ratios, union officials said, holding out for statewide ratios that will be released later this year.  

Those ratios are currently working through the regulatory process in Sacramento. 

Alta Bates nurses are scheduled to vote on the contract Wednesday. The hospital, which has facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, would not confirm or comment on details of the tentative contract until the vote is complete. But spokesperson Jill Gruen said Alta Bates is “very pleased” that a tentative agreement has been reached. 

Alta Bates nurse Pat Strickland, who served on the negotiating team, said union members are disappointed that there has been no movement on new staffing ratios. But she still expects approval of the tentative contract. 

“There is definite disappointment that immediate staffing issues are not being addressed,” Strickland said. “But I think, in general, people will ratify the contract.” 

Last week, the California Nurses Association authorized a July 17 one-day strike at four area hospitals, all owned by Sutter Health, the Northern California, nonprofit health care giant.  

Late Thursday night, the union reached agreement with St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco and called off the strike. Friday night, the Nurses Association inked tentative contracts with Sutter Solano Hospital in Vallejo and Alta Bates, averting work stops at both of those facilities. 

The union still has no contract with Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, but has called off the one-day strike. The hospital issued its final offer late Sunday night and is awaiting the union’s response. 

The union argued, over the course of the Alta Bates negotiations, that a strong contract was necessary to attract and retain nurses. The hospital, swept up in a national nursing shortage, has over 200 unfilled positions. 

Union officials said the new agreement should help to ease the shortage. 

“I think the raise certainly helped in recruiting people, and actually, the retirement package too,” said Strickland. 

The contract includes a guaranteed pension payment, rather than one that is tied to the stock market, said California Nurses Association spokesperson Charles Idelson. 

“This is a major improvement,” he said. “Historically, nurses have had very substandard pension plans.” 

The contract also includes new health benefits for early retirees. In the first year of the contract, according to the union, Alta Bates agreed to pay 80 percent of the first $200 of an early retiree’s monthly health care premium. The $200 ceiling rises to $215 and $225 second and third years of the contract respectively.  

When an early retiree reaches 65 and is eligible for Medicare, the Alta Bates payments will shift to cover supplemental Medicare insurance instead. 

Alta Bates nurse Connie Arburua, who served on the negotiating team, said the health care benefit package marked an improvement over Alta Bates’s original offer. 

Although the union did not win new nurse-to-patient ratios, it did make some gains on other staffing issues. Staffing disagreements can now be referred to an independent arbitrator and “charge nurses,” who head the hospital’s various nursing units will not be included when calculating the existing nurse-to-patient ratios. 

Arburua said the hospital would not budge on new staffing ratios and argued that the union could not have won on this issue unless the membership authorized a long-term strike. 

“I’m not overwhelmingly pleased,” Arburua said. “But I do think the contract was the best we could get without an open-ended, full-blown strike.” 

If the union rejects the tentative contract Wednesday, it will authorize a long-term strike, giving negotiators greater leverage in negotiations.