Health & Medicine

Thousands of Sacramento-area hospital workers will see wage increases

California Nurses Association protests shelving of single-payer health care bill

Anger over Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s decision to shelve universal health care legislation in California boiled over into aggressive protests against the Democratic leader by the California Nurses Association.
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Anger over Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s decision to shelve universal health care legislation in California boiled over into aggressive protests against the Democratic leader by the California Nurses Association.

Both Dignity Health and Kaiser Permanente announced Monday that they had reached major contract agreements with labor unions representing thousands of employees at the two companies.

The roughly 15,000 members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West concluded voting Friday, ratifying a five-year contract with Dignity that will increase pay by 13 percent over the term of the deal. SEIU-UHW, which has 3,624 members in Sacramento County, represents a range of service and technical employees, from X-ray technicians to surgical technicians, from housekeepers to admitting clerks.

“Our new contract maintains employer-paid family healthcare and provides rising wages,” said Dennis Anderson, a laboratory assistant at Dignity's Mercy Folsom Hospital, in a prepared statement. "That security and peace of mind enables us to focus on caring for our patients."

Over at Kaiser, about 19,000 members of the California Nurses Association reached a tentative, five-year deal after voting two weeks ago to authorize a strike, if needed, if their concerns about patient care were not met. It would have affected 21 Kaiser facilities throughout California. Roughly 4,500 of these nurses work in the Sacramento region.

In a prepared statement, Debora Catsavas, the senior vice president for Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said: "This agreement reflects our respect for Kaiser Permanente nurses and the excellent care they provide to our patients and members. It is aligned with our commitment to high quality care, affordability and being the best place to work in health care."

CNA nurses will start voting Monday, and they will find out the outcome of the vote in mid-April. Diane McClure, a registered nurse at Kaiser South Sacramento who was on the CNA bargaining team, said three of the union's top priorities were:

  • Integration of patient-care coordinators into the RN bargaining unit. The coordinators, RNs who handle patient discharge, had voted last January to join the CNA.

  • Gaining a voice for nurses on build-out and development of new software that measures the level of nursing care that patients need.

  • Maintaining parity in wages for nurses around California.

When CNA began negotiations, it represented 18,000-plus nurses at Kaiser, but as part of the contract negotiations, the union successfully negotiated to have roughly 600 patient care coordinators be integrated into the same bargaining unit as Kaiser's other RN's. The 600 nurses now will have parity in pay, McClure said, and they will have a stronger bargaining position as part of a group of 19,000.

Regarding pay, Kaiser had proposed restoring a pay scale that varied by geographic region, McClure said. She said she has worked at the company long enough to remember a time when wages varied by region, and Kaiser had trouble recruiting and maintaining nurses in places such as Santa Rosa because Bay Area nurses were paid so much more.

Nurses saw both these bargaining points as crucial to patient care, McClure said. Patient-care coordinators determine when patients can be discharged, she said, and they wanted all nurses standing behind them if they ever had to disagree with hospital officials over a date for discharge. In the case of pay, McClure said, a wage disparity could lead to a shortage of nurses focused on care at a community hospital.

The new software system, she said, also was a concern because it will recommend staffing levels for nurses on each shift. To have the data to make those recommendations, she said, nurses would be required to to chart all patient activities in real-time. There are regularly times, though, when nurses are so busy that they can't chart all patient services until the end of their shifts, McClure said, and after researching this with nurses at other hospital companies, CNA negotiators found that such delays can adversely affect the recommendations being made by the software system.

If nurses don't chart until the end of their shift, McClure said, the staffing for the next shift will be lower than it should be. To deal with potential issues like this, the CNA sought additional positions for nurses who can float and help out their peers.

"We now have been able to secure 150 positions to spread throughout the region that are going to help the nurses in the hospitals," McClure said. "They won’t have a specific patient assignment where they’re responsible for set patients. They will be able to help in whatever is necessary."

Both the Dignity and Kaiser contracts include wage increases of 2-3 percent annually over the next five years. Dignity also will add $500,000 a year to its contribution toward a joint labor-management fund that covers training and education for employees.

"This agreement honors our commitment to our employees while acknowledging the significant challenges Dignity Health and employers everywhere in the U.S. face with the increasing cost of health care," said Darryl Robinson, the hospital system's chief human resources officer.