Public Comment

A Nurse's Viewpoint

By Berit Block, RN
Friday October 07, 2011 - 08:12:00 AM

I have been a Registered Nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for over 29 years. I love my job. I started at age 24 when it was Merritt Hospital and have worked there through various mergers and labor disputes and strikes. We, as Registered Nurses, have worked very hard through the years for a contract that protects our patients and offers us fair working conditions and upholds our work as a profession. Our contract is upheld by nurses working in other facilities as a Gold Standard. What is happening now, as we are negotiating our contract is unprecedented. Never, in almost 30 years have I experienced what we are now going through. We are asking for language in the contract for better murse-patient staffing ratios and it should be noted that California is one of the only states that has a law that mandates nurse-patient ratios to protect the patients. These have already decreased the number of deaths and poor outcomes in the state. We, as CNA members, are only asking that our previous contract be upheld. We are not asking for anything new, not even a cost of living pay raise. We only want NO TAKEAWAYS. 

The number and type of takeaways proposed by the hospital are unfair and outrageous. They are proposing elimination of all positions less than 4 days a week. There are many nurses working less than 4 or 5 days a week and their benefits are pro rated. Every nurse currently is required to work every other weekend until they have been employed for 15 years. Our previous contract allowed nurses to work every third weekend after 15 years of service and then eliminated the requirement after 20 years of service. Sutter wants every nurse, regardless of years of service, to work every other weekend. Sutter is proposing elimination of ALL sick pay, stating that SDI will kick in after the 8th day of illness. In addition they are proposing cutting back on maternity leave. They are proposing elimination of all 12 hour positions and cutting back on the hours that non-benefited nurses can work. They are proposing large cuts in hourly pay. These are just a few of the more than 72 takeaways that Sutter has offered us! It feels a bit more than trimming the fat. It appears to be more of a union busting technique as the number and type of takeaways are so over the top. 

There have been many figures in the media about how much money nurses make. We are a profession. There are a few nurses who are in a specialty that requires them to be on call and these nurses have the potential to make a lot of money as they usually make half of their hourly wage while they are waiting to be called in. However, this is a time where you are literally waiting for the phone to ring and you do not have total freedom to be any where or do anything you want while you are on call. These are usually high risk areas and are vital should a patient come in needing emergent care. Nurses otherwise make a good salary but if you look at the breakdown in terms of pay per patient the perception changes a bit. If you have 4 patients that you are responsible for and you make $60 an hour, which is average for an experienced nurse, you are talking about $15 an hour per patient. This is for skilled nursing for acute patients such as those out of surgery or medically ill enough to need to be hospitalized with frequent assessments and treatment changes. I know babysitters that get paid more per child and who well deserve it. We are highly trained professionals and are at the bedside 24/7. The figure that you quoted, $130,000, cannot be made hourly by the average nurse and perhaps if you included all of the health care insurance and other benefits might come close but I think it is a stretch. It is a disservice to Nurses to quote that figure since it leads the public to erroneously conclude that we make a huge amount of money per hour and in this depressed economy may not give us support at a time when we need it for ourselves and our patients. 

Sutter Health, a not-for-profit hospital, in 2010 made a "surplus" of $878,000,000. Yes millions!! And this surplus was made by Alta Bates Summit Medical Center only, not all of the hospitals in the Sutter chain. This "surplus" was made while upholding our contract. The very same contract that we are trying to negotiate to keep now. Nothing new for us, just the same contract that still allowed the corporation to collect this huge "surplus". [Sutter executive] Pat Frey received a 43% raise and now makes at least 4 million dollars a year. Who knows how much more he will make when the figures for the 2011 "surplus" are in. Sutter donated 1 million dollars to keep the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento. This is not a corporation that seems to be in financial distress. The term CORPORATE GREED comes to my mind. 

The employees of Sutter Health from the nurses, housekeepers, lab technicians and all the others who keep the hospital running have made that profit, as have the health care consumers. When our negotiations first began and it became clear where we were headed, I felt very disrespected in my mind about how little Sutter seemed to respect my work and that of my colleagues and all the others that work in the hospital. Who did they think made the profit for them? What gets me through this difficult time are the patients. They are why we are here and do what we do. We know we make a difference in people's lives, be it teaching, performing tests, giving reassurance, improving the health or quality of life, or even saving a life. The patients are why we do what we do. We will continue to offer excellent care and are even willing to strike so that we can continue to advocate for them and mandate the highest standards possible for their protection and for our profession.