Health & Medicine

Kaiser nurses in Sacramento gain double-digit raises over 5 years

Members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare workers will rally near Kaiser Permanente’s south Sacramento hospital. The union says it has more than 2,000 members who work at this facility.
Members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare workers will rally near Kaiser Permanente’s south Sacramento hospital. The union says it has more than 2,000 members who work at this facility. Sacramento Bee file

Roughly 19,000 nurses and nurse practitioners from around Northern and Central California ratified a new five-year contract with Kaiser Permanente that includes wage increases of 2-3 percent annually, their union announced Monday. About 4,500 of these nurses work in the Sacramento region.

“Protecting the economic security of our future RNs is essential to defending the health of everyone who will be a patient today and tomorrow,” said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the California Nurses Association, the union that represents the Kaiser nurses. “This agreement gives us a strong foundation for health security for Kaiser nurses and patients for the next five years in a turbulent time of health care in our state and nation.”

Cumulatively, the CNA-represented workers will see wages rise by 10-16 percent over five years.

Under the new contract, Kaiser also agreed to hire 150 new registered nurses to ensure proper staffing as the company integrates a new computerized patient classification system. This system would assess patient care needs and recommend nurse staffing levels based upon input, registered nurse Diane McClure said, but as she and other nurses researched what happened at other facilities that adopted the system, their peers told them that the system made inadequate staff projections if nurses were busy and could not enter data as they performed each task.

The new hires will be part of a team that float throughout the Kaiser facilities and assist when staffing is not sufficient, McClure said, and 106 of them will come on board within the next 90 days. She said Kaiser nurses also will have representatives on a committee working on the integration of the system.

“We made very positive strides towards safer care by achieving the addition of new RN resource positions as part of this agreement,” said McClure, a Kaiser South Sacramento RN. “We know that the care of our patients will benefit with the addition of these nurses who can supplement the current staffing levels with an extra set of hands to help in busy and difficult situations.”

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The agreement maintains parity in wages for nurses in the 21 Kaiser facilities represented in these contract negotiations, something that the CNA said would ensure that all facilities had an equal footing in recruitment.

The new contract will also cover about 600 registered nurses who function as patient-care coordinators, planning care for patients after they are discharged from the hospital. The National Labor Relations Board, the agency charged with enforcing labor law, had approved the patient-care coordinators' vote to join the CNA in January 2017, McClure said, but Kaiser had pushed for these RNs to be in a separate bargaining unit from other nurses. However, she said, the patient-care coordinators had told the CNA that they wanted to be in the fold of the larger bargaining unit.

“With that, all Kaiser nurses will be better able to advocate for our patients from admission to discharge, resulting in better care and safer outcomes,” said Zenei Cortez, a Kaiser South San Francisco RN, in a prepared statement. Cortez chaired the nurse negotiating team.

The nurse practitioners and registered nurses voted overwhelmingly to approve the contract after nine months of bargaining and job site protests, CNA officials announced Monday in the news release.

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