Judge issues restraining order to stop walkout of more than 10,000 nurses at UC hospitals
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch issued his order noting that a strike might violate the nurses’ contract and endanger public safety. The injunction was requested by the California Public Employment Relations Board, a state regulatory agency that handles public employee relations.
Officials with the California Nurses Assn. had threatened to strike after contract negotiations broke down in August over their demand that hospital officials increase staffing. They argued the hospitals put patients at risk by forcing nurses to work during their breaks and cover for each other.
On Tuesday, nurses complained that instead of making hires to improve nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, university and hospital officials have spent millions to block the strike, hiring high-powered lawyers from the San Francisco-based labor law firm Littler Mendelson and strike-breaking temporary nurses from across the country.
Union officials said they are still discussing their next steps.
“We’re having an emergency meeting tonight of our bargaining team who are going to review all of our options on this," said union spokesman Chuck Idelson. "No decision of this court is going to fix the staffing problems that are endemic in the UC hospital system.”
UC officials called the union's strike plan a tactical ploy and disputed claims that patient safety was at risk.
“UC nurses are paid properly, and deservingly so,” said Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for human resources. “They have a tough job and they’re good at it. Patient safety also is not an issue, contrary to what the CNA leadership had been claiming in public. Staffing ratios are regulated by the state, and the University complies with the law.”
Nearly 12,000 nurses had planned to strike at the university’s five hospitals, as well as Marina Del Rey Hospital, Citrus Valley Medical Center and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro, union spokeswoman Liz Jacobs said. The injunction does not bar nurses from striking at the three private hospitals.
Nurses still plan to strike there Thursday and to rally outside University of California medical facilities, Jacobs said.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, more than a dozen nurses protested outside the courthouse.
“We see every day nurses having to watch other nurses’ patients,” said Geri Jenkins, a union official and registered nurse at the UC San Diego Medical Center. “The nurse shouldn’t be put in a place where she is choosing between going to lunch and making sure her patients are safe.”
University of California officials have paid staffing agencies to fly in thousands of backup nurses this week at an estimated cost of $10 to $15 million, according to spokesman Steve Montiel. Montiel said the injunction would allow officials to scale back the effort. But it was unclear how much they could reduce costs Tuesday, he said, since the backup nurses had already started arriving.
The base pay for University of California nurses is about $74,328, but nurses with more experience or more demanding jobs can earn more than $122,000, under their most recent contract. All nurses receive health benefits and a pension, a union spokeswoman said.-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske